Over the years, the pages of Guinness World Records (GWR) have hosted an array of food-fixated title holders who’ve proved themselves the best when it comes to speedy eating or downing outsized feasts. In this week’s Guinness World Records: Behind the Book, Editor-in-Chief Craig Glenday lifts the lid on the remarkable history of gastronomy in GWR.
Now, long ago GWR stopped accepting record applications from people who were deliberately eating to excess in an effort to secure a record. We often refine our guidelines across the wealth of categories we monitor, not least because we don’t want anyone (or any animal, for that matter) to come to harm in the name of securing a record.
So there’s no point in applying to us for the largest meal eaten. As Craig explains right at the start of the latest Guinness World Records podcast, attempting such a feat could be a fatal mistake!
That said, today we do monitor competitive eating records, under carefully controlled conditions. We’ve done so from our very first issue, published in 1955. In those far-off days, though, things were a little more free-and-easy…
That debut publication included champion chompers who downed nearly 500 oysters in an hour, or worked their way through more than 70 hamburgers in one session. Another extraordinary individual had a seemingly bottomless appetite for chickens: he ate more than 20 of them at one sitting in 1963. His affection for Martinis also saw him embark on a drinking challenge with a lion.
In bygone days, we also acknowledged individuals with an apparently unquenchable thirst, who could seemingly down the contents of a small off licence and remain standing. Meanwhile, the extraordinary range of food downed by title holders of the past ranged from the commonplace to the bizarre. Can you believe that swallowing live goldfish was once a craze, or that it was still going strong in the 1960s? And if you think that’s gruesome, wait till Craig tells you about Australia’s William Burke and his appetite for sheep’s brains. Unsurprisingly, you won’t find such out-there fare in the pages of GWR 2020!
Gastronaut Peter Dowdeswell proved himself a food-and-drink machine over the years. One of his skills was gulping down hot dogs without chewing or even biting them first. But even pros get it wrong sometimes: find out what happened when Peter attempted to consume two pints of milk while being held upside down by his ankles.
As Craig relates, in the 1990s we took a long, hard look at our gastronomy records, evaluating how to ensure that we could make them safer while still retaining their "WOW!" factor. (There’s certainly no shortage of interest in the subject. Remarkably, there’s even a professional league dedicated to it: Major League Eating. We’ll leave it to Craig to tell you more…)
When the category returned to our pages late in the decade there was a new emphasis on rate of consumption (foodstuffs snaffled in 30 seconds, or a minute, for example), as opposed to forcing down stomach-bulging quantities. It’s safer, certainly, but still produces star scoffers and jaw-dropping feats of ingestion against the clock.
Dip into GWR 2020 and you’ll discover marvellous Michelle Lesco, an American maths teacher with a passion for speed guzzling that’s earned her the epithet "Cardboard Shell".
Michelle’s a multiple record holder, notching up the fastest time to eat a bowl of pasta (26.69 seconds), the fastest time to eat a hot dog with no hands (21.60 seconds) and the most mayonnaise eaten in three minutes (2.448 kg, or 5 lb 6.35 oz).