There was plenty to debate yesterday at Fairfax County's pie-eating contest, but thankfully none of the discussions led to food fights. Was it better to leave glasses on or off? What about hats? And does whipped cream help or hurt?

For Ben Ford, 3, competing in the under-5 age group, the finer points of pie eating didn't really matter. He had no hat and no glasses. And he happily went with the whipped cream for his chocolate pudding pie.

Ben was joined by his three siblings and mother, of Sterling, and 12,000 others at this year's Fairfax County 4-H Fair and Frying Pan Park Farm Show in Herndon. The weekend festivities also featured face painting, amusement rides and cattle, swine and dog shows, among other activities.

For the pie-eating contest, Pam Ford stood behind her son and told him what to do. Though the rules stated that contestants had to put their hands behind their backs, Ben steadied himself at the table with his hands.

"You've got to be the first one to eat the whole bowl," she told him. "Just use your face."

Ben sat there with a been-there-done-that look as other parents gathered around their charges. With the contest firmly underway, he lightly licked the whipped cream like a finicky cat as kids around him lapped up their pudding pies. He looked bored. And then there was the matter of his pride.

"Somebody didn't want to get their face in and get dirty," Pam Ford said. "My 12-year-old will probably do the best."

That contest, for the 10- to 13-year-olds, was next, drawing two more Ford children.

"Do you have a big mouth? Open up," 4-H volunteer Nicole Benedict, 14, said to Sam Ford, Ben's 10-year-old brother. "You're fine. Set him up with a pie."

As late contestants scrambled under the green tent for seats at the tables, contest organizers dished up chocolate and vanilla pudding from silver bowls into palm-size aluminum pie plates.

Nicole yelled out the rules.

"Put your hands behind your back. When I say, 'Go,' you're going to eat as fast as you can," she said. "When you're done, you're going to stand up and say, 'Pig out!' "

Pam Ford's oldest son, Josh, 12, sat next to Sam. Between burps, he discussed his technique.

"I'm just going to eat it fast. I always eat fast anyway," he said. "I wish it was an old-fashioned pie-eating contest where you eat as much as you can until you chuck."

This contest was one pie, one person, no chucking. But Josh, despite his pre-contest bravado and nostalgia for the good old days of pie-eating, wasn't quite up to the challenge. He guessed later that he came in fifth or sixth.

Across the table sat Katharina Dolenc, 13, who cleaned her bowl and was the first to leap up and shout, "Pig out!" Though her father, Paul, standing on the sidelines, swore that whipped cream would only slow her down, she went with the topping.

"You just have to stick your whole head in it," she said as she clutched her prize, a cow Beanie Baby. "I've won this contest, like, three years in a row."

It's a record of achievement that her father, an engineering assistant at Verizon, could not claim. After his daughter's repeat victory, he came in second in the adult category.

"I did no whipped cream, but I don't think it made that big of a difference," he said, wiping vanilla pudding from his nose. "So there goes that theory."

There is, of course, always next year. For some, however, technique isn't everything.

"I'm sick of pudding. I never liked pudding," said Hannah Ford, 7, as she clutched the rubber pink rabbit she received for participating. "I just did it for the prize."

Franki Audin, left, 10, and Emma Berry, 11, react after another competitor yells, "Pig out!" and wins the pie-eating contest for their age group.