Eating at professional sporting events is a terrifying journey into the unknown. The ingredients used are of questionable provenance, the preparation equipment often appears to have been requisitioned from local freshman dorm rooms, and the employees charged with getting the cuisine from the heat lamp to your waiting hands don't usually look 100% committed to their current career paths. That's why beer is made available: to overcome these very rational concerns you may have about ingesting concession-stand grub and persuade you to part with cash monies in return for salt-festooned snack treats.
That, and so people have something to throw at Ron Artest.
The best stadium food will have enough sauce and cheese to mask the shocking amounts of grease that are entering your system. The worst will roil your digestive tract and instantly knock a year or two off your actuarial life expectancy. I used to live in NYC, where my buddies and I would attend a dozen or so Knicks games every year. I still remember the first of these games I attended, at which I made the mistake of ordering MSG's signature menu item, the "Garden Dog." Or as I now refer to it: The Thing That Should Not Be. That was five years ago, and the stench has still not left my nasal passages. If you told me Garden Dogs are made using the ground-up carcasses of hobos kidnapped from Penn Station, I wouldn't doubt you for a second.
Not all stadium eats are equally disgusting, of course. This week, ESPN's Outside the Lines published their review of the food-prep conditions at 107 baseball, football, hoops and hockey facilities across the country in an attempt to discern which teams' grub is the most vermin-riddled. Quantification takes the form of the percentage of vendors who've been cited for violations by health inspectors.
The good news? Staples Center, home of the Lakers and Clippers, is one of the least revolting arenas in the NBA. Only 11% of vendors there have been dinged for violations, which represents an admirable commitment on the part of our teams to the concept of not killing off their own customers. So next time you're at Staples and it's halftime of a Laker game, go ahead and dial up that BBQ beef sandwich. Odds are, there's not enough cockroach bodily waste in there to alarm the local sanitation watchdogs.
A complete summary of the vendor inspection reports can be found here. More than anything, what it makes clear is that inspection standards vary wildly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For instance, all three Denver facilities have an over 60% violation rate, which tells me that Colorado health inspectors are really, really zealous about their jobs. At three bars at Invesco Field, they complain, "inspectors found fruit flies in bottles of whiskey." That's a problem how? I'm not saying it's ideal, but it's not like that would stop me from drinking the whiskey.
And check out the results from Chicago: United Center - 0% violations.... U.S. Cellular Field - 0% violations.... Wrigley Field - 0% violations. Umm, OK. I'm not suggesting that local teams are bribing inspectors in the grand tradition of Chicago municipal corruption, but... wait. Yes. Yes, I am suggesting that. If you ever eat a hot dog at a Bulls, White Sox or Cubs game, consider it a miracle if you make it out alive.
Follow Dex on Twitter here.