Ah, finally a “fun” human-interest story on student debt



After all of those horror stories about senior citizens who are still paying off their student debt and parents who co-signed loans from private lenders and are now obligated to pay off the student debt of their deceased children, how nice to finally get an “upbeat” story on student debt.

Erik “Silo” Dahl, a computer-science major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is literally eating his way through college to avoid student debt.

“Silo” is a competitive eater—in fact, the third-ranked competitive eater in the world according to All-Pro Eating.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Dahl, who is 6’3” tall and weighs 220 pounds, normally eats no more than 3100 calories per day and exercises regularly.

He traces his start in eating competitively to an evening when he visited Big Red’s Steakhouse in Madison. When he saw that he could eat for free if he could manage to consume a three-pound cheesesteak in ten minutes, he felt more than up to the challenge. He consumed the sandwich in five minutes and fifty seconds. The article notes that Big Red’s Steakhouse has since gone out of business, but it does not indicate whether “Silo” started eating there every evening and thereby contributed to the business’s closure.

His first actual prize money for competitive eating resulted from a contest held at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Minneapolis, during which he consumed nine pulled-pork sandwiches in six minutes and earned $250 in prize money.

In the interim, “Silo” has earned more than $18,000 in prize money.

The photo below shows “Silo” in training for his next competition. He’s working his way through a bowl containing thirteen pounds of Vietnamese pho noodles.


I paid my way through college by working a series of crappy jobs—everything from cleaning a dance studio to working in an industrial laundry that did the bedding and garments for about forty hospitals in a half-dozen states. This was before AIDS, and we used to dump bags of used surgical garments, towels, and drapes into small, high-pressure washers that ran hot enough to “sterilize” the fabric. These items were often quite bloody, and frequently there were small pieces of human tissue sticking to them–as well as surgical clamps and other instruments, which we removed and collected until we had almost a full bin of them. We also would launder a thousand pounds of sheets at a time, shoving 250-pound rolls of them into each pocket of several, huge, four-sectioned washers. The sheets were often very “stained.” So this was, literally, a very crappy job. I believe that I made $2.40/hour, but that was back when $2.40 still wasn’t all that much money.

So, in that context, competitive eating doesn’t seem the absolutely worst way to try to pay for college.

On the other hand, this sort of story runs the risk of trivializing what is not just a very serious problem but a rapidly escalating problem. Consider the following chart, taken from Mother Jones:


Soon, a student like “Silo” won’t be able to put away enough cheesesteak and pulled pork to even put a dent in the portion of the cost of a college education being borne by the typical student.