It all started with a poster.
“COME WATCH ME EAT 5 POUNDS OF POTATO SALAD,” it declared, inviting people to watch a Halifax man eat the boiled potato dish at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Halifax on Saturday night.
“(THIS IS MY FIRST ATTEMPT AT SUCH A CHALLENGE),” the poster added, requesting that spectators bring their own seating and their own potato salad “if you so please.”
Someone posted a picture of the poster to social media, and that’s when things “kind of snowballed and turned into an avalanche” for Riley Merry.
Merry, now known in the community as “Potato Salad Guy,” is something of a Halifax legend. His antics Saturday evening drew a healthy crowd to watch him devour a large tub of potato salad, despite the pouring rain.
He said he decided to do the challenge when he realized he had a tub of potato salad that was about to go bad.
“I realized it was going to expire, I didn’t have time to reasonably eat it, so I looked at it, saw the expiry date, and said, ‘That’s a challenge. I can do it,’” he told Global News Morning.
Merry printed out 20 posters — keeping one for himself, and putting up those that remained — and made a Snapchat video advertising the challenge. Things went viral from there.
“I kind of went to bed, and when I woke up the next morning, people were like, ‘Is this real?’” he said. “So I committed to the bit.”
Leading up to the challenge, he trained for a few days, which “involved a lot of Costco hot dogs and a lot of two litres of pop.”
Saturday evening, Merry intended to eat the salad at the gravesite of former Canadian prime minister Sir John Thompson in Holy Cross Cemetery, but police arrived and prevented him from entering the cemetery.
“I won’t lie, if I had a family member who was buried next to the prime minister, I probably wouldn’t want a guy puking potato salad on them,” Merry said. “I can see why they closed it.
“(The police) weren’t a problem. It was a good time altogether. They made the pictures look better.”
Photographer Noor Mohrez captured some images of Merry struggling to get through the tub of potato salad, rainwater running down his face, illuminated by the headlights from two police cars.
Merry believes so many people became interested in the challenge because it was something funny and positive during an otherwise difficult time.
“We’re kind of in a bit of a pressure cooker right now. Things in the world, they’re not great,” he said.
“If people want to gather around something positive, bring the whole city together — if I’m going to be potato salad guy, and that’s what’s going to happen — so be it.”
Another positive could come out of this too. Artist Shannon Dawn immortalized the event in an oil canvas, and Merry said there’s been a lot of interest in buying prints.
Merry said he and Dawn are in the “very, very, very early stages” of organizing some kind of charity event or auction to sell prints, and maybe the canvas itself.
“Neither of us want any funds from this. This was completely created out of humour,” he said. “Out of good humour, we’re going to try to help some people out here.”
In the end, Merry wasn’t able to make it through the entire five pounds of potato salad, but he did get through 3.8 pounds, or 1.7 kilograms.
Despite a stomachache, he said it was a “really good weekend” — and he looks forward to facing off with another tub of potato salad sometime again in the future.
“I can’t let myself go down like that,” he said.
“I have no set date yet, but there will be a round two. Potato Salad Man is not going to lose to the potato salad.”
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