By Daniel McIntosh
Competitive food competitions have been around since the early 1900s. The Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest has been attracting competitors and viewers to its annual contest since 1916. Competitive eaters like Furious Pete and Matt Stonie challenge their stomachs and their health in tournaments for the glory of being crowned the world’s fastest eater. College fraternities host milk-chugging competitions, sometimes as hazing rituals or for charities, like Rutgers University’s own gallon challenge. These challenges trickled over to the internet where they have gone from lightly competitive to lethal and hazardous. Here are a few of the most popular food challenges the internet has offered in the past few years, ranked from least to most dangerous:
The Chubby Bunny Challenge
The Origin: Unknown. Although a 1959 Peanuts strip features Charlie Brown playing the game.
The Objective: To see how many bunnies (aka marshmallows) the players can fit in their mouths. Players must put marshmallows in their mouths and say “chubby bunny” or its regional variant, fluffy bunny, clearly enough to satisfy the other players.
If the player is unable to say “chubby bunny” they lose the game. This is where the rules become unclear. In some games players must unload the marshmallows. In others, players are given the option to redeem themselves by swallowing the marshmallows.
The Danger: A children’s game involving marshmallows is seemingly harmless but stuffing one’s mouth and throat beyond its natural limits is, obviously, a choking hazard.
A 2003 comment on a forum explains how the game was banned by a school after students began choking and could not get the marshmallows dislodged.
Two deaths have been recorded in playing the game. In 1999, a 12-year-old student suffocated to death while playing the game at school.
The Cinnamon Challenge:
The Origin: The cinnamon challenge began as a YouTube reaction video trend in late 2011. By February of 2012 the challenge had peaked in interest. The most popular iteration of the cinnamon challenge was uploaded by GloZell Green and currently has 53 million views.
The Objective: The player must film themself eating a spoonful of ground cinnamon without drinking anything, or otherwise washing it down. Some challenges say the spoonful must be cleared within 60 seconds in order for the win to be valid.
The Danger: There is a choking risk involved with swallowing cinnamon. If the cinnamon is inhaled it can do serious damage to the lungs, causing inflammation, according to a review published by the Rady Children’s Hospital.
“Cinnamon is made from tree bark and contains cellulose, a substance that doesn’t break down easily. If it gets into your lungs, it stays there and can cause inflammation, thickening of lung tissue, and scarring.”
Hot Pepper Challenge
The Origin: The hot pepper challenge has been documented online as early as 2006, and peaked in popularity around 2012. According to Google Trends, interest in the challenge spikes about once a year. The most viewed video on YouTube, uploaded in June 2012, has 33 million views.
The Objective: The player must film themself eating a hot pepper, usually a Habanero, a Bhut Jolokia (ghost pepper) or a Carolina Reaper pepper.
The Danger: The extreme heat from peppers comes from capsaicin, an irritant compound that produces a sensation of inflammation, burning and tenderness with surfaces it comes in contact with.
Joseph McPhee, a professor studying microbiology at Ryerson says the dose makes the difference.
“The issue with capsaicin is that it produces mild heat. People like that,” McPhee said. “The issue is that a high dose is a neurotoxin. At a high enough dose it can cause seizures and heart attacks.”
The dose of capsaicin necessary to actually cause damage is seriously high. A lethal dose of capsaicin ranges between 0.5 and five grams.
The USDA Nutrient Database lists peppers as having up to six grams of capsaicin per 100 grams. The average Habanero, weighing contains about 0.54 grams of capsaicin. So the average person would have to eat 408 grams to kill them. That equals to over 700 peppers.
Tide Pod Challenge:
The Origin: Laundry pods were introduced to U.S. markets throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s but lost popularity shortly after. Proctor & Gamble reintroduced the form with Tide Pods, in 2012. Almost immediately, poison control centres saw an uptick of babies and young children eating tide pods. A Paediatrics report from 2014 says that one child a day was sent to the hospital for exposure to the laundry pods in 2012 and 2013.
The consumption of Tide Pods remained a hot topic when a 2015 Onion article satirized the phenomenon from the perspective of a baby.
Tide Pods achieved meme status in 2017, due to several viral tweets. Some of them compared the desire to eat tide pods to a forbidden fruit.
Since then, babies unknowingly eating the colourful pods have blossomed into teens and full-grown adults consuming the caustic chemicals for the Tide Pod Challenge.
The Objective: Death. The objective of the Tide Pod Challenge is death. The challenger must try to consume a whole laundry pod, after which, they will die.
The Danger: The main issue of consuming laundry pods, aside from the risk of death, is “how concentrated the detergent within them is,” according to McPhee.
“Liquid laundry detergent has a lot of water in it to dissolve the chemicals. The tide pods are in powder form and are really concentrated,” he said. “They could basically dissolve the layer of cells in your gastrointestinal tract.”
Companies like Tide’s parent company, P&G, are making sure people can’t get that far. In 2015, they began adding chemicals that would make the pods taste bitter.
“Most people will spit it out,” said McPhee. Still, teens and adults have been filming themselves biting into the laundry pods.
“If you’re an adult and you work your way through that bitterness and swallow an entire tide pod. That can kill you.”
At this point McPhee chuckled. “It’s not really a joke. I would say they’re [food challenges] all pretty stupid.”