“It’s a seven-pound stuffed sopapilla, dude.”
“I realize that, Zach.”
Zach Gould was the photographer who first embarked on the Albuquerque Food Challenge project.
“I mean.” I continued, mostly to myself. “I’m trying to get a physical handle on the mass of it. Just the mass.”
Zach drove his ratty truck up the North I-25 rush-hour traffic shifting through slow, wide lanes of SUVs that dwarfed us.
“I bought 10 pounds of potatoes last night.” I said. “So I have that to go on. But this is a bag of fatty madness.”
“Do you really think you can eat it?” Zach asked.
“I don’t know, man.”
“It’s seven pounds of food —”
“—which means. It’s probably three pounds of chicken…three pounds of beef…”
I tried to imagine a single pound of meat. I summoned mental fragments of fleshy TV dinners and fatty grocery aisle meats. My chances didn’t seem good.
The economic reasons for eating challenges make sense: It’s all marketing. What’s really mind-boggling to me is that the challenges are popular.
American mentalities play into it, surely. The machismo of competition and the reward of a free meal is too much to pass up for the male mind.
We like to think we’re elite and that we’re smart and savvy enough to beat the system. The shocking part to me is that the “elite” revolve around the manfully virile lard bucket.
And here I was, getting ready to take part in that same tradition that encouraged and celebrated gluttony as success.
The view of the Sadie’s sign ahead conjured feelings of guilt, gluttony and dread. Or maybe just hunger.
“Welcome to Sadie’s,” the doorman mumbled.
Jerry, the manager, was friendly, leading us back to the thick New Mexican dungeon that was Sadie’s kitchen. The massive tin factory of heat and sound boomed as the factored armies packed the space with clamoring Spanish and physical weight.
The sopa itself — the size of a small child — was produced and laid out in front of us.
As the ingredients gathered, it didn’t seem that bad. The combined beef and chicken weighed about a pound. Piles of papas and frijoles were stuffed inside, but they seemed within a doable realm.
My mouth watered as the red chile was ladled en masse on one half and green on the other. The top flap of the sopa was placed over the top and down rained the blubbery layer of cheese. The cook lifted up the fatty beast and weighed it. My mouth dropped — “Six pounds.”
“With the garnish and everything, it’ll weight about seven pounds,” the cook said, casually. “It’s almost there.”
He threw more cheese across the top, and I watched in horror as the needle crept toward the little, red “7.”
The sopa was carried off on a pizza pan and placed in a heater for the cheese to melt.
“I personally don’t really have much of a choice serving it,” the cook said. “I just think it’s really obnoxious.”
I stood and stared at my bulging opponent. I had seen manholes that were smaller. Garnished and horrid and smelling delicious, it waited patiently for its purpose to be fulfilled.
It had a soul as I stared into it, its new life in my hands. I watched every step of its emotional creation, all leading to this moment.
“Go ahead and eat it, I guess,” Zach said, flatly.
I took my first bite.
I hacked and sawed and chewed and bit and ripped and crammed and shoved and swallowed. And then repeated, keeping up speed.
And yeah, it was tasty. The beef and red chile at the back of the beast was good, but it was hard to really enjoy. I was tearing out sections and eating them and segmenting out more.
The majority of it was gone when I started to slow down significantly. A pound or two left. I could feel it wanting to work its way back up, the pressure and nausea that occurs when your body is subtly trying to tell you you’re being a complete moron.
“I don’t know why you’re even still doing this,” Zach said to me as I slumped over table.
“It’s the principle of the thing,” I mumbled over the pile of cheese and bean tissue.
“We already got it for free. Why does it matter?”
“I feel drunk,” I answered.
This was it, I realized. Zach was right. If I tried to finish it, I would certainly puke. There was no doubt. I felt uncomfortable about the entire scenario anyway. Maybe I could escape with some semblance of dignity if I didn’t turn into Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” in the Sadie’s dining hall.
Suddenly a waitress appeared out of nowhere.
“How is everything?” she asked sweetly.
All I could do was laugh.