Youth League Competitive Rotten Cheese Eating: Is it Ethical?

All the tables are filled with cheese, luggages, purses and other storage devices, all equally infested. The mini-fridges, likely also filled with cheese, I forgot to check. The floors - coated with vomit, so slick and trotted over the meek reflections of any youthful cheese eaters can be seen in it. So it goes, one contestant stared so deeply into some of the cheese’s warbling stench she fell in and never was seen again. (Or she was seen later in a Chuck e Cheese prize room covered in joke cockroaches and string candy, I don't remember which.) That was but one of the many makeshift myths passed between full mouths in the dressing rooms backstage of the 27th annual Nebraskakan Youth League Rotten Cheese Eaters Show.

The Contestants lined up have been picked, gendered, and trained from birth. (For optics reasons, since the '95 show the Judges no longer require performers to be neutered.) As the hours drip by, falling closer to the curtain pull tensions backstage raise high, but disappointingly not as high as the excitement.

In one of the frail dressing rooms, the father of one of the contestants stands over his daughter, "Do your practices." he loud-mumbles, handing her a jar of moldy pickles. Moldy pickles being what all pro-rotten cheese eaters use during practice, not to waste the real stuff. Looking down at her, he is slowly motioning, imagining himself with baby teeth, younger, and eating rotten cheese alone on a stage. "Dad, but no, the last pickle had a worm in it," she pleads to him.

"Worms are good and loyal creatures. They don't get enough credit. Don't you ever let me catch you talk down to worms again. You will eat that rotten pickle, and beg for any worms inside's forgiveness. Now back to your practices."

His daughter didn't hear this part, but my keen journalistic ears did, (or I accidentally planted it in my memory). "Worms and I," he muttered, tongue and tooth still mouthing adverse reactions to rotten cheese.

The long and glorious history of performative rotten cheese eating dates back to at least 1993. A true American pastime, the special variety of cheese used in the competitive league was invented by a couple from Illinois after they read the cheese's recipe in a old turkish cookbook. This prerotted cheese derives its signature tumor-like lumps from the addition of special stomach milk of an illusive High Goat Priest added during the fermentation process.

The Youth Cheese League Oversight Board was formed after the third competition to curb the rise of unorthodox chewing techniques in the preliminary shows. While overall crowd enjoyment and ticket sales have bounded since the implementation of the new rules, some contestants feel they're too restrictive. "It wasn't just making Mom and Grandpa proud, I guess. I wanted to show them who I am with my ingestion. I don't know why, but I wanted to make stage stink with my intestinal skills. But it was all just routine chew-pray-chew-chew-hold nose-swallow. I was eating cheese like everyone before me. I was showed that young."

Glenda, a youth League hopeful, confided to me, before sitting down to get their hair done and striking up a conversation with the young boy doing his makeup beside them.

" 'You don't even know what gorgonzola Is.' For real, that's what I said to her" Glenda proudly recounted quietly to the young boy.

"What ya mom do? Mine couldn't even process it if I said something like that to her."

She went on her usual rant: "How do you fucking sleep at night when you know that you have done nothing to further success of the hit television series the Golden Girls." It was four talented women at the top of their game and you did nothing. You just sat by on that plastic teet I paid for, while I was on that set, I held the boom mic that caught Betty White's good jokes. Me, I did that. And you have the nerve to say I don't understand cheese or show biz."

The kids grew even quieter as their parents returned from their smoke breaks. The boy's mom gave him yet another last makeup touch up before taking him to the green room for roll call. Glenda's mom frantically took the brush out of their hand and started brushing the kids’ hair in the up and down way she likes it brushed.

"People will clap, you'll make them clap. You're going to sit there and eat your rotted cheese," Glenda's mom yells in that sort of strained whisper tone, that while technically quieter still sounds just as loud as yelling somehow. Just as other contestants and parents begin to take notice, Glenda is called to the stage. It's their turn.

Molting Butterflies breed in their stomach. The Audience moans in amusement as Glenda begins their act. Rotten Cheese. Rotten Cheese. Rotten Cheese.

They begin chewing but a tired feeling is hanging up there on the stage with them. Hanging like the photo of a now old woman who was once a failed youth league rotten cheese eater, her hair being brushed by Glenda's Grandfather, brushing up and down just the way he used to.

For more articles by Mike O'Really, click here. To get in touch with this writer, email


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