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Sunday Musings: Should Food Dares be Banned?

The news this past week that a Massachusetts teen had died attempting the so-called Hot Chip Challenge has generated a lot of hot debate online and off. Some folks now say that all extreme food dares should be banned…

Paqui and Wolobah - © 2023 GoFundMe - Sarah DussaultThe late Harris Wolobah (left). The Paqui version of the One Chip Challenge
product (right). Note, the woman in the Paqui portion of the image is
using surgical gloves to handle the potentially deadly chip…

The story so far…

You’re probably aware that Harris Wolobah died in hospital hours after consuming just one ultra-hot corn chip given to him by a friend on a dare. He was 14, a healthy basketball player according to his dad. No preexisting conditions, no known allergies.

“I hope, I pray to God that no [other] parents will go through what I’m going through,” Harris’s mother, Lois Wolobah, told WBZ-TV. “I miss my son so much. I miss him so much…”

The product has been removed from store shelves by maker Paqui snacks, a Hershey company. Paqui’s website now leads with an earnest-sounding disclaimer which, essentially, blames Wolobah and others harmed by its product for their own fates.

“The Paqui One Chip Challenge is intended for adults only, with clear and prominent labeling highlighting the chip is not for children or anyone sensitive to spicy foods or who has food allergies, is pregnant or has underlying health conditions […] We have seen an increase in teens and other individuals not heeding these warnings.”

How extreme is too extreme?

According to CBS News: “Spicy food challenges have been around for years. From local chilli pepper eating contests to restaurant walls of fame for those who finished extra hot dishes, people around the world have been daring each other to eat especially fiery foods, with some experts pointing to the internal rush of competition and risk-taking.

“But extremely spicy products created and marketed solely for the challenges — and possible internet fame — is a more recent phenomenon. And teens are particularly exposed to them because of social media.”

Associate professor of psychology at Florida International University Elisa Trucco points out there is a, “glamorization of these challenges on social media. You see a lot of ‘likes’ or comments (indicating) social status or popularity from these challenges, but you don’t see a lot of the negative consequences — like the trips to the E.R. or other injuries.”

Calls for a ban

The social media have been pelted with demands that extreme food promotions such as the Paqui ‘Challenge’ be outlawed.

The implication is that companies which run such challenges are all too aware of the allure that these promos have for the young and the reckless. We hear over and over again that many kids, as yet unscarred by the harder potentialities of life, ‘think they’re bullet-proof’.

“There’s a reason why these challenges are appealing,” Trucco says. “This type of marketing sells.”

A new kind of chilli dare

One characteristic that differentiates commercial hot chilli challenges from others is the extreme nature of the product people are being tempted to consume.

Hot chilli dares have been around for the better part of a decade. But the vast majority of them have featured less-toxic preparations. And most have been supervised by organizers with first aid staff on hand.

The most extreme – prior to our learning of the Paqui Challenge – was a contest in Fredricksburg, Texas, in 2016. A truly dedicated scout master identified only as ‘Johnny’ downed 23 Naga Bhut Jolokia peppers – the hottest naturally-occurring type. It was a fundraising stunt for the troop.

Twenty-four hours after the ‘show’, Johnny was reported to be still sick in bed, recovering. But not dead.

My take

I’ve been waiting for some organization or another to step over the line on these stupid challenges since I first heard of them.

I maintain that Paqui – and the Hot Chip Company (HCC) located in Czech Republic, which originated the One Chip Challenge – definitely crossed a deadly line.

First, they sold the chips in stores and online, with warnings that were probably legally adequate. (Disclaimer: I am neither a doctor nor a lawyer.) But kids will be kids. And who among us – be they 7 or 70 – actually reads the End User License Agreement before installing the product?

Second, the vending methods employed by the HCC and Paqui also precluded any direct monitoring or supervision of dare attempts by those responsible for the them.

Third, HCC not only issued the dare but asked participants to video their dare experiences and submit the recordings. HCC wanted to post them on its website to further promote the Challenge. Submitters were to be placed in a draw for a new iPhone.

Questions abound…

Would you take the One Chip Challenge for a chance to win an iPhone?

Would you take it under any circumstances?

Should such challenges be outlawed? If only to save impressionable teens and crazy adults from taking their lives in their hands?

Muse on that…

~ Maggie J.