Aaron Bowers does not simply eat a pie, like one traditionally eats a pie.
Chewing, breathing, swallowing — all of these actions take time. But Bowers doesn't have that kind of time.
At least not when he's competing to be the first to, using no utensils except his face, finish an 8-inch blueberry pie at the Verrill Farm pie-eating contest. The Arlington resident has held the title the past four years.
"You have to breathe sometimes, or you'll pass out," Bowers said. "But minimizing chewing and breathing is the key. It's a matter of being willing to push your body out of its comfort zone of what eating and digesting should be like, and optimizing for speed."
Bowers' scientific approach to pie slurping has paid off in the last four years, during which he has blasted opposition at the late July Verrill contest and at the strawberry shortcake eating contest at Lexington's Wilson Farm in June, which he treats as a warmup.
"Strawberry shortcake is a lot easier to eat fast because it has more moisture," Bowers, who lives with his family in Arlington, said. "It can just be vacuumed up. Blueberry pie is more of a challenge."
Bowers is so dominant at the Wilson event that the staff there only allows him to compete in the first three of the many rounds they hold, he says.
At Verrill, he took first place this year in what farm manager Barbara Hoefer called "the biggest competition she'd ever seen," even with the Verrill family looking over his shoulder and making sure he licked up every last morsel.
So how does this pie-eating master take the cake, er, pie? It all starts with keeping the throat, which Bowers uses to sing in musicals in the Boston area when he's not using it to consume massive amounts of pie, loose and moist.
Bowers doesn't eat the morning of a competition, though he does drink a lot of water.
"Dryness is the enemy of pie eating. Your body has to produce moisture to lubricate it down your throat," Bowers said.
Bowers starts by using his mouth to remove the crumple pie crust top. Then he vacuums the blueberry filling down his throat, without chewing or even breathing, before going back to the crust.
The hardest part, he says, is getting at the bottom of the crust, which often sticks to the foil pie container. To solve this problem, he bashes the crust with his nose until it breaks into manageable bites.
All of this happens in less than two minutes, Bowers says — he still hasn't gotten someone to time him yet. His body then spends the rest of the day trying to digest the pie.
"I'm giving my body a lot of extra work to do by foregoing chewing, as a lot of digestion happens in the mouth," he said. "A lot of people think that this is about eating how they normally do but just faster. Chewing faster and taking larger bites is not going to work. What works is inhaling the pie instead of chewing."
Bowers discovered the Verrill contest by accident, when he visited the farm's blueberry pancake breakfast four years ago with his family. He joined the contest for fun, and won. Since then he's sharpened up his strategy, and put all challengers to shame.
And — watch out, New England — the current pie-eating king is still improving.
"Since the first year it's been a matter of refinement," he said. "Every year I chew less and inhale more. I went from wolfing to slurping. The more you can slurp in, the faster and more efficient you can get. "