NAGANO, JAPAN—Mere hours after eating what he claims to be his "farewell meal" Tuesday, longtime consumer of comestible goods Takeru Kobayashi formally announced that, after a career that has spanned nearly his entire lifetime, he has decided to walk away from eating food.
"My physical gifts, including my God-given ability to ingest food, are still there, but my passion for it is not," said a gaunt, visibly fatigued Kobayashi, speaking through his interpreter in a barely audible whisper. "Yes, chewing and swallowing food has always played an important part in my life, and if I'd never done it, I probably wouldn't be here today. But after nearly 30 years, I am tired of eating."
"I used to eat because I wanted to, but lately it seems like I only do it because I feel like I have to," added Kobayashi, who claims that he was in the middle of eating his 52nd barbecue chicken wing last week when he realized he no longer possessed the same hunger he did earlier in his career. "I knew it was time to step aside and give others the chance to eat."
The announcement has come as a shock to those close to the Japanese star, who claim that for Kobayashi, eating was more than just a hobby—that a powerful, mysterious force deep inside of him compelled him to eat. Many expected him to continue eating until the day he died.
"Takeru used to live, breathe, and eat food," said Hideki Ihara, Kobayashi's uncle. "Not a day went by that he didn't eat. He based his whole day around it. He'd be down in the kitchen every morning at the crack of dawn, squeezing in an early meal. He'd be the last one at the dinner table each night. In fact, he loved it so much that he would leave his job in the middle of the day and spend his lunch hour eating food. Now that's dedication."
"I don't know how he's going to survive without eating," Ihara added.
According to Kobayashi, the transition from a life of eating to one of not eating has not been easy.
"Do I still crave food? Of course—usually about three times per day," Kobayashi said. "There are times when the thought of never eating again really hurts. There are times when it burns, times when it aches, times when it induces fainting, and times when my blood pressure suddenly drops and I experience heart palpitations for two straight minutes. Like any change in life, it's going to be an adjustment."
Kobayashi also said that, because he was born into a family of lifelong food-eaters, he was afraid to explore other career paths throughout his life, believing that doing so might upset his parents.
"I've been eating ever since I was in diapers," Kobayashi said. "My parents encouraged me to start eating at a very young age, although they sometimes forced me to eat things I did not want."
"After 29 years, I'd like to try some new things, like kayaking, mountain climbing, or ingesting liquids," he added.
Although Kobayashi's friends are happy for him, they have expressed concern for his well-being, claiming that he has appeared listless, depressed, and seems to be wasting away since his retirement. Some think that the decision to give up eating may even have long-term effects on Kobayashi's health.
"Ever since he retired from eating, it's like part of him is gone," Kobayashi's friend Tsuyoshi Hasegawa said. "Specifically, the part of the brain that regulates autonomic activities and heat sensitivity."
Despite his family members pleading with him at his bedside to reconsider his decision, Kobayashi maintains that he "[does] not want to become one of those washed-up guys who doesn't know when to quit and ends up having to eat through a straw."
"There are things about eating that I will miss—the sandwiches, the hard-boiled eggs, the satisfying feeling you get after replenishing your body's nutrients, and especially the fried dumplings," Kobayashi said. "And there are certain things about eating I won't miss—mostly the hot dogs."