Man v. Food

Did an American TV show popularise English food challenges?

Competitive eaters and writers have attributed the sharp increase of food challenges in England with the recent popularity of the American television show ‘Man v. Food’. But is there any correlation between the television show and this new trend?

Adam Richman, the star of ‘Man v. Food’, spent three years taking on food challenges across the United States. A food challenge tends to be defined as an ongoing contest that is sponsored by a restaurant; participants are given a set amount of time to eat either a large quantity of food or a small amount of spicy food.

In 2010, the show made its debut in England on the Good Food Channel. An article in the Guardian said that since 2010: “slowly, by word of mouth, it has blossomed into something of a cultural touchstone for a generation.” The show was most popular in late 2011 and early 2012. UK outlets began writing about the popularity of food challenges in 2012 – shortly after restaurants like the Pride of Paddington created their first challenges. 

The following Google trends chart is of the number of times people in England searched for the phrase ‘food challenge’ from 2004 to present.

Searches of the phrase 'food challenge' in England  from 2004 to present

Searches of the phrase ‘food challenge’ in England from 2004 to present

Before May 2010, there were no hits for the phrase ‘food challenge’.  As the show ‘Man v. Food’ gained popularity, the number of searches spiked.  These searches steadily increased between September 2011 to April 2012 – from 9 to 92. Since then the numbers have dipped and risen; the top hit was 100 in February 2013 and the lowest was 41 in September 2013.

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The Terry Tucker: inside London’s triple cheeseburger challenge

Photo courtesy of The Pride of Paddington

Photo courtesy of The Pride of Paddington

Location: The Pride of Paddington

The challenge: The Terry Tucker

Price: Free if you finish within 20 minutes. Otherwise, it’s £20.

The details: It’s a cheeseburger on top of a cheeseburger on top of a cheeseburger, for a total of 30 ounces of beef. Add six slices of bacon, three oversized onion rings, and a bucket of chips. After you finish the challenge, your photo is posted above the bar, in either the “winner” or “loser” categories. The pub also hosts two additional Terry Tucker challenges: a Shepherd’s pie and a lasagna. (more…)