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Yang vs. Food: Jerry devours competition

Competitive eater, bodybuilder talks quirky dieting habits

Born 10 pounds 3 ounces, Jerry Yang has always been a big guy, but after his freshmen year, the 6-foot-3-inch 200-plus pound standout found a hobby that could allow him to realize his potential: competitive eating.

Dave Katz/ Staff Photographer Jerry Yang

Yang’s first taste of competition was at the 2011 Mutant Mania eating contest in the Dickinson Community. As a first-timer, Yang plowed his way through a carb-heavy menu that included cold egg noodles, bran muffins and biscotti to win the first-place title in just over six minutes.

Since then, Yang, now a junior majoring in accounting, has competed in a number of eating contests including CommuniKey’s garbage plate eating contest at Binghamton Hots, a wing-eating contest hosted by Dickinson Town Council and a hot dog eating contest, which remains the only competition to date in which Yang has not been victorious.

Competitive eating for Yang comes with little preparation.

“The day before an eating competition, I’ll try to eat a lot of lettuce to stretch out my stomach,” Yang said.

Though he turns to the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food” and the Food Network for inspiration, Yang said his reasons for getting into competitive eating elude even him.

“I don’t know what drives me to do this stuff,” Yang said. “My mom, she sees me do these things and she’s like ‘What’s wrong with you?’”

Yang, a resident assistant in Dickinson Community, said he always has to add money to his meal plan account throughout the semester, usually totaling about $1,400 by the semester’s end.

“And then I’ll go to Walmart and buy chicken and stuff to cook on the side, too,” Yang said. “So I’ll go through enough food to feed a whole year of someone else in a semester.”

Yang’s superfluous intake of food doesn’t stop at the end of each competition.

“I eat about five to six meals a day,” Yang said. “Each meal could probably feed a person for the whole day.”

Yang, who boasts that he has never thrown up following an eating competition, said that putting away excessive amounts of food comes naturally.

“When my mom cooks, I’ll eat half the food for the whole family,” said Yang, joking that his ability to out-eat members of his family has helped determine his size. “My sister’s really short though; she’s like 5’4”. I think it’s because I eat too much of the food. I don’t know why I’m so big.”

A wrestler during high school, Yang also uses his size and capacity to eat in his bodybuilding pursuits, a hobby he hopes to pursue competitively over the next few years.

“I wanted to do Greek God, but I don’t know if they’re going to let me do it,” said Yang, a member of Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity. “It’s usually social fraternities that do it.”

To help his bodybuilding, Yang follows a nutrition regimen that includes vitamin supplements — he even paused to pop a few pills mid-interview — and two to three cups of water at every meal.

Yang is well known among his friends for his unusually big appetite.

“He eats everything he sees,” said Jae Yoon, a junior majoring in accounting. “When I’m next to him, I feel like I’m eating nothing cause he’s eating so much.”

Paula Haffen, Yang’s girlfriend, said she benefits from his unique eating habits.

“I never have to worry about having leftovers because he always finishes what I can’t eat,” said Haffen, a sophomore double-majoring in history and psychology. “And not only does he eat but he cooks for me, too!”