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Cemetery potato salad eater draws crowd, gets indigestion

Riley Merry got through three quarters of a five-pound potato salad tub on Saturday

4 min read
Riley Merry eats potato salad in front of two police cruisers near Holy Cross cemetery.
caption Police observed Merry's feat from inside their cruisers.
Dylan Taylor

The Holy Cross cemetery gates loomed in front of a waterlogged Riley Merry as he plunged into another pound’s worth of potato salad. 

Bathed in the amber light of police cruiser headlights, a crowd of 100 cheered as Riley Merry downed three hot sauce-slathered bowlfuls of salad. His attempt at a fourth resulted in vomiting. 

“I was just stuffing it in as much as I could but it just came right back out. There was nothing I could do,” he said. “Didn’t matter how much water I chugged to push it down.”

In total, Merry got through 3.8 pounds of supermarket potato salad.

Merry said loading up more and more of the mustardy mix felt like “when you go trick-or-treating and you just slowly see that you’re getting too much candy for your bag.”

Riley Merry lurches over while eating potato salad near Holy Cross cemetery.
caption “I don’t even like potato salad,” Merry said in a TikTok.
Dylan Taylor

Merry’s stunt has only become more famous as the days pass. A TikTok post about the event has racked up nearly 150,000 views. Haligonians have been churning out memes and jokes about the event by the pound; phony heritage minutes and oil paintings about the event have been circulating online.

The police presence was a surprise for the Haligonian account manager. Merry thinks the cemetery must have caught wind of the stunt, which he originally intended to perform in front of former prime minister John Thompson’s grave.

By the time he arrived, the HRP had already stationed a car near the cemetery, which is normally always open, but was closed for maintenance.

“Trust me, they’re never closed,” he said. “You can go in there past midnight almost every day of the year.”

Merry ended up getting the green light from officers to tackle the tub outside the cemetery gates. He ended up being grateful, as he said the cars made for a more dramatic scene.

“At the end of the day, picture-wise, I think it made it cooler,” he said. “I’ve got to thank the cops on that one.”

The large crowd surprised Merry.

A crowd watches Riley Merry eat potato salad near Holy Cross cemetery.
caption The crowd cheered after every bowl. Some even asked if Merry would take pictures with them.
Dylan Taylor

“I can’t believe Halifax supported me the way they did,” he said.

Some spectators brought posters to the gathering. Laith Phillips, who used to work with Merry, designed a large, weatherproof sign that towered over the crowd.

For Phillips, the event was an absurd ode to freedom.

“It’s an inspiration. You really can just go to Costco, buy a five-pound tub of potato salad, sit by the side of the road and eat it,” they said. “You can do whatever you want.”

Merry’s undertaking vaguely resembles other extreme and ridiculous public eating events that have been generating buzz recently. Philadelphia man Alexander Tominsky’s attempt to eat 40 rotisserie chickens in 40 days last year made him famous online. 

Merry acknowledges the similarities between his event and Tominsky’s, but maintains “[t]here’s no way a rotisserie chicken is harder to eat than five pounds of potato salad.”

Merry says he spent the days leading up to the event expanding his stomach capacity. His daily regimen consisted of two Costco hotdogs, a soda and a bag of tortilla chips.

This routine is raising eyebrows.

“The Chronicle Herald guy was absolutely dying,” he said. “He was like: there’s no way this is even possible.”

Journalists and fans alike have been scratching their heads trying to understand the meaning behind Merry’s endeavour.

In a mid-meal interview, Merry offered a cryptic explanation.

“It was $2.50 off at Costco,” he quipped between spoonfuls.

Riley Merry eats potato salad near Holy Cross cemetery as crowds and police look on.
caption Merry live-streamed the event for those who couldn’t attend.

Later, Merry added more clarity. He says he didn’t attempt the stunt in the name of any cause except sheer entertainment. 

He said the increasing cost of living is making it harder for Haligonians to find ways to spend their time affordably.

“There’s not much extra to do. We’re just kind of surviving at this point,” he said. “If I can put out a free activity to get people to come out and have some fun, I’ll do what I can do.”

In the middle of his third bowl, Merry cried out: “Rent is high and food is too expensive!”

The crowd cheered.

Merry said Halifax hasn’t seen the last of him yet. He’s already planning a rematch with his starchy foe next year.

“Definitely can’t lose to a bucket of potato salad,” he said. “Round two will happen when it’s not as cold and not as wet.” 

Riley Merry addresses the crowd gathered to watch him eat potato salad near Holy Cross cemetery.
caption Merry bowed to a cheering crowd. An afterparty at Oasis Pub & Eatery began 30 minutes later.
Dylan Taylor

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Dylan Taylor

Dylan Taylor makes music, journalism and music journalism in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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