We had just begun the second leg of a two day journey, having stopped for the night in Reading, PA. I was just getting back into the rhythm of the road when I saw the billboard. It seemed like remnants of last night's restless sleep, the surreal images of a bad dream. I wish I had stopped on the busy freeway and taken a photo. The sign portrayed two men facing each other on opposite ends of the billboard, each with an enormous gut spilling over the tops of their belts and exposed by their too small T-shirts. It invited Reading Phillies minor league fans to join them for "Gluttony Night", an all-you-can-eat extravaganza, complete with pre-game eating contests for just ten dollars to go along with their sugar laden drinks and beer.
I thought it might be a joke or an hallucination until I had a chance to look it up on the web. Not only was Gluttony Night a real promotion, but it was being offered three times this season because of its grand (or gross?) success last season. The more I read, the more disturbing the details. Here are a few and a link to the whole article.
"Just like last year, any fan attending a Gluttony Night game will have the chance to chow down on some of their favorite ballpark food. For just $10, fans can buy a Gluttony Night wristband - which grants them all-you-can-eat cheeseburgers, hot dogs, pizza, French fries, ice cream, funnel cakes, and fountain sodas, from 5:00 until the 7th inning stretch....
"Last year, we gave fans two chances to partake in Gluttony Night, and with the overwhelming success, we decided to add a third," said Hunsicker. "We look forward to shattering any and all of our food records this season."
During the first Gluttony Night at FirstEnergy Stadium, a crowd of 6,435 of hungry R-Phils fans entered through the turnstiles -- the largest crowd on a Tuesday night during the month of May, and each fan consumed an average of $19 worth of food. The Gluttons set a stadium record by gulping down 4,549 hot dogs (1.77 per) -- topping the previous high of 4,275 sold on Father's Day 2008.
As part of the all-you-can-eat feeding frenzies held during the games on Gluttony Night I (May 19) and Gluttony Night II (August 26), the combined quantity of cheeseburgers, hot dogs, pizza, French fries, funnel cake, ice cream and soda consumed amounted to 39,239 - earning a nomination by Minor League Baseball as one of the top ten promotions of the 2009 season."
So there you have it. I was, after all in Pennsylvania Dutch country, a seeming Mecca for all-you can eat buffets and not far from the cradle of Philly cheese steaks.
When I began to get over my shock, that someone was actually promoting gluttony, I wanted to rant about lifestyle choices and preventive health or why any organization would openly entice the public to do something potentially harmful to themselves. But wait. Haven't we seen this kind of corporate marketing behavior for a long time? Take gas guzzling SUV's, or Super-sized McDonald's fare or and an ever-increasing portion size on our restaurant plates. All send the message to a world out of balance: more is better, happy, good, and essential. A happy meal is a big meal. You can't just go to the game and have a good time. You have to enhance the experience with more...what? more anything-hats, hot dogs and bobbleheads. Even the Gluttony Night had bloated into three of them this season. What is the word for too much gluttony? Gluttony cubed? Gluttumongus?
I had thus far on my trip been able to avoid fast food dining with a little planning and my trusty cooler. The handful of fresh asparagus I threw in as I emptied my refrigerator at home became a special treat steamed in my motel micro suite for dinner. Smoked turkey, pita bread, carrot sticks and toasted whole almonds, sliced apples rounded out the menu. Sure, I would love a piece of Amish apple crumble or funnel cake and ice cream. Maybe that is what got me so irked by the billboard. I was working really hard to eat well and here comes a Major League Baseball farm team blatantly throwing a spitball into my somewhat self righteous stew of "what's good for you".
But really! Shouldn't we be asking the question of what each of us can do to stem the biggest controllable health care crisis in our nation's history-one that threatens the well-being of millions and in economic terms, even our national security. And if we are not willing to work to help prevent obesity, then we should really at least be trying not to encourage it in order to sell tickets to a game. Shame on you, Reading Phillies.