"Be not among . . . gluttonous eaters of meat."
- Proverbs 23:20
Gluttony: In the Bible, it is condemned as one of the seven deadly sins. In Philadelphia, it is celebrated.
I am speaking, of course, about the annual Wing Bowl, a contest in which contestants compete to see who can eat the most chicken wings in a given amount of time. Held today in South Philadelphia, the Wing Bowl attracts tens of thousands of spectators and is now an international event.
The Wing Bowl is something many Philadelphians take pride in, but should they? Not only is it a celebration of gluttony in a city where thousands suffer from poverty and hunger, but it is also a celebration of suffering.
Most of us focus on the event's contestants, who stuff themselves with chicken wings. What is conveniently ignored is that each chicken wing requires tremendous suffering.
Chickens are the most exploited animal on the planet. Of the 10 billion land animals killed for food in the United States alone every year, close to 9 billion are chickens used for poultry and eggs.
The wings contestants consume belong to factory-farmed chickens that live hellish lives. Genetically modified and pumped up with drugs, Wing Bowl chickens - as well as almost all chickens in grocery stores and restaurants - reach slaughter weight after living 45 days packed into sheds full of excrement. That's 1½ months of life for a being that would naturally live close to a decade.
The process of slaughter itself is appallingly vicious. The chickens are shackled upside down and dipped in an electrified bath - they're electrocuted while alive - to stun them, only to have their necks later cut as they flap their wings in pain and distress.
All of that makes the Wing Bowl a celebration not just of gluttony, but of the misery and torment that billions of chickens endure every year. The contestants don't just stuff their faces with food; they gorge themselves on the tortured flesh of defenseless beings whose lives are characterized by suffering. We kill them, and then we trivialize their deaths.
Part of the allure of contests such as the Wing Bowl, as evidenced by the scantily clad "Wingettes" who cheer on the contestants, is machismo. Indeed, the consumption of meat has long been associated with manliness. But there is nothing tough or masculine about exploiting the weak.
While it would be better if eating contests ended altogether, the Wing Bowl and other events could at least avoid exploiting the misery and lives of others by going vegan. Vegan versions of chicken wings and virtually every other meat product exist. So no animals need to be intentionally killed for this "sport."
Fewer animals killed would also mean less global warming, since, according to the United Nations, animal agriculture accounts for more climate change than all of the automobiles in the world combined. The consumption of meat (and dairy and eggs) also leads to numerous illnesses.
Eventually, humans will stop looking at themselves as the pinnacles of creation and at other animals as resources, units of production, or goods sold for money and consumed for sport. When that day comes, we will look back at the Wing Bowl with shame.