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Competitive Eating in the 17th Century

Competitive eating has been described as a particularly American thing, but showing off how much one can consume did not originate in the U.S. Nicholas Wood, the Great Eater of Kent, was a 17th-century Englishman who would demonstrate astounding gastronomic feats, often on a bet, and was sponsored for a time by poet John Taylor.

Wood was a self-made farmer when Taylor found him, but the Great Eater had already gained a reputation as a nearly superhuman feaster. Wood made a name for himself as a glutton by performing feats of feasting at fairs and festivals, as well as by taking part in dares and wagers with nobles. As recounted in Jan Bondeson’s book, The Two-Headed Boy, and Other Medical Marvels, Wood had, at various times, devoured such incredible meals as seven-dozen rabbits in one sitting, or an entire dinner feast intended for eight people.

Wood didn't care much about what he was dared to eat, and at various times consumed an entire mutton shoulder (bones included), a dozen loaves of bread soaked in ale, and 60 eggs. Read about the Great Eater of Kent at Atlas Obscura.

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