Fryin' up some licorice for days and days is no way to live. And yet...
I first met Rajiv a few years ago when I interviewed him. Back then he was the singer of an indie rock band called Oh No Forest Fires (R.I.P.), but besides having a beard that would make lesser men envious, he was born and raised in Newfoundland—which means he’s capable of drinking most other human beings under the table. Since I’m also from the East Coast and we have several mutual friends, we got along pretty well and stayed in touch after he moved to St. John’s to study to become a doctor. Recently, I was on Facebook and saw that he was engaged in an “experiment” where he could only eat Hawkins Cheezies (which according to Wikipedia, were created after World War II by Americans James Marker and W.T. Hawkins, who eventually moved their production headquarters to Belleville, Ontario) for 127 hours straight (or one business week), with only water and one vitamin pill per day to keep from dying. To make this ridiculously unhealthy challenge even more interesting, his friend Ian also participated, eating only Hershey’s Nibs. This all sounded incredibly stupid to me so I checked in with them a few days after they finished to make sure they were still alive—and found out why exactly they put themselves through such an ordeal.
VICE: So, the first and most important question - why would anyone in their right mind do this? Was it a bet?
Ian:We were just at a party and Rajiv was eating some Cheezies and said matter-of-factly, "You know, I could probably eat only Hawkins Cheezies for the rest of my life." I instantly said, "Really? How long do you think you could actually live on only Cheezies?" On some level I may have just grown tired of hyperbolic statements that are thrown around so casually, but that's probably not what actually went through my head. We went back and forth deciding how long he actually could go, and we came up with 127 hours, with the justification that if a guy could live trapped under a rock for that long, it should be easy enough to just eat a delicious snack. And, I think to really push him to find out, I said I'd eat something else exclusively for the same amount of time. He came up with Nibs, a candy that isn't really one of my favorites but one that I do like, and for some reason I agreed.
Rajiv:I think the more important values - if we can call them that - at play here were things like raw stubbornness, curiosity, and a sense of one-upmanship. In a lot of ways, it's the same reason I drank a pint of my best friend’s urine, or ate a raw hot dog out of a puddle on George St.
You didn’t just eat them as-is, what are some of the methods you used to prepare your food in different ways? I saw the Vine of the Cheezies smoothie.
Rajiv:Yeah, I mean let's face it, they taste best raw, room temp. We tried boiling them, straining it, and eating a pasta-like dish. It ended up just being like warm mushy, processed cheesy corn meal. And to be honest not all that bad. The Cheezie smoothie was much worse. I tried to get it down quickly and I gagged and brought the whole thing back up.
Ian: I tried a few different techniques to keep my "meals" interesting, but neither of them made my food taste any less like Nibs. 1) Frozen: just made them really hard and cold. 2) Fried: tasted a bit worse than regular Nibs (almost like burnt hair maybe), but at least it was a slightly different taste. 3) Boiled: they just melted and became slimy and hard to eat. 4) Smoothied: flavoured water, nothing special.
Rajiv, you're studying to be a doctor so you should know better than anyone just how incredibly unhealthy this challenge was...
Rajiv: Yeah, I'm in school for that. I don't see why that should change anything. I still functioned reasonably well at work. The worst part was having to deal with all of the questions from people who saw my posts about it on social media, like: "How are ya doin with the cheesies?!" or "CAN I GET YA SUM CHEEZIES!!!!" every damn day. That might have been the hardest part about all this actually. Forcing myself to NOT tell people to shut up when they were talking about it. I can talk about it. Why are YOU talking about it?
Maybe that's not fair either. Because I loved the Facebook and Twitter aspect of it. I like narrating events. Strangely enough, I actually reconnected with a half dozen people that had kind of drifted out my life that I had forgotten about. So that's a plus. Regardless, I certainly didn't trust my own opinion about the health risks of this whole thing. So I asked someone that would know. He's a staff general surgeon here in St. John's and he said, and I quote:
"You can go a week without eating anything and nothing would happen. But it's still idiocy. You should cancel this.”
When were you the closest to giving up?
Ian: About 14 hours into the challenge I started getting really hungry and was pretty close to calling Rajiv and admitting it was too ridiculous of an idea and then quitting. I figured I'd at least try to get through the day, but in my head there was no way I could last for the whole duration. Day two and three were relatively easy, I assume because my stomach was no longer expecting food. I went out to dinner with a few people on Tuesday and couldn't help but continually smell everyone's food. Other people's reactions, and them telling us how stupid we were for doing it, were pretty motivating I guess. We obviously like to think we have a lot of willpower and control over our bodies, and personally I wanted to see just how far that could go.
Overall, all week my body felt awful. Constant headaches, my stomach was pissed at me, and I felt light-headed and dizzy a lot. I tried to stay busy without being too active, just to occupy my mind with something not related to Nibs. I went out to lunch for my Dad's birthday on Wednesday and after them trying to force feed me for an hour it eventually came out and I explained it to my parents and received the exact disappointed look I expected. Friday was very difficult to get through, and if it wasn't the last day I probably would have had to quit. I felt kind of delusional for the first time all week, and as much as she disapproved initially, my girlfriend was pretty supportive towards the end.
Rajiv:Not once did I consider giving up.
Did you notice any changes in your bodily functions?
Rajiv: No overt changes. My poop didn't turn orange/glow/kill me as most people kept asking, but it definitely took on a strange consistency. There was one night where I woke up with a persistent stabbing pain in my ride side of my belly which I've never had before and absolutely never want to experience again. My pee also remained normal coloured. To be honest, I was more worried about putting myself into heart failure or getting edema (swelling) on my ankles because of the sheer amount of sodium I was getting.
What has this experience taught you about the limitations of the human body?
Rajiv: Undoubtedly, there are people reading this that are just bored while they're pooping, thinking, "This is stupid in a lot of ways." But if you were to put a romantic spin on it, maybe it's in the same spirit of discovery and respect for the natural world that led us to do things like fly to the moon. Yeah, I just compared eating Hawkins Cheezies for 127 hours to landing on the moon.
Follow Max on Twitter: @Max_Mertens
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