Since the creation of the internet, the world has become increasingly accessible. Anyone can learn a new language, keep themselves updated on the news, and view waves of content from all corners of the globe.
A result of this easy information culture is the phenomenon of viral videos. One such clip has been dubbed “Mukbang” by fans around the world.
What exactly is Mukbang?
Meokbang, or Mukbang as it’s more commonly known, is a portmanteau of the Korean words, ??; meokneun meaning “eating” and ??; bangsong meaning “broadcast”. It is a form of live streaming in which a person, or “host” as they are usually referred to, eats large amounts of food. Said host often throws etiquette out of the window and embraces guttural sounds and lip smacking. Nine out of ten times, the foods used for these videos or live streams range from unhealthy crunchy, deep fried chicken and sauce-coated instant noodles to fresh, crisp fruits such as apples.
What are its origins?
Mukbang first started in South Korea. It initially started out as a popular TV show which was later replicated by fans on the Korean “one-man broadcasting channel” AfreecaTV. This is a live streaming platform created in the spring of 2005, which would be later officially named as AFREECA the following year. The popularity of Mukbang was quick to take hold in the Korean mainstream media, with fans migrating to KakaoTV, which is a spin-off app from the highly used instant messenger app, KakaoTalk. Its popularity followed fans everywhere, to YouTube and TwitchTV, both eventually becoming the permanent homes of Mukbang, with the latter honouring it with its own category – “Social Eating”.
Though the popularity of this activity seems rather strange, there are several reasons for that it’s so loved by fans, hosts, and even some scholars.
Why is it popular?
The Mukbang phenomenon, with its rapid ascent into popular culture, has now merged with ASMR. ASMR was originally created to help people experience a certain pleasurable tingling sensation in the brain and head by immersing them in particular sounds. ASMR itself is a very popular trend in which the sounds caused by objects is considered extremely satisfying by fans and can cause what is known as brain orgasms. Naturally, the sounds caused by a person eating would spark the interest of fans of ASMR, with video creators partaking in Mukbang, or a different form of it called Cookbang, in which they cook the food in addition to eating it.
One of the more popular Mukbang hosts, Erik the Electric, theorised why his content is highly popular. He commented, “I think people watch because they are alone, and want to eat with somebody else through the computer.”
This makes sense, as in most Asian nations, South Korea included, the majority of people do not go out to eat alone. According to many sources, eating together is a tradition that people associate with community and giving a sense of togetherness. It also explains why many Koreans opt to watch these Mukbang hosts eat live on streaming services, where viewers can make live comments and interact with the hosts.
Fans across the world have also revealed their own reasons for loving Mukbang. People who practice fasting during certain times of the year claim that watching them eat makes them feel far fuller and more satisfied during their foodless days. In addition, people on diets say that Mukbang helps them lose their appetite, thus helping them during their food cravings.
How much do they earn?
Though the amount earned isn’t hard to accurately calculate, it is believed that most hosts earn an average of US$10,000 per month, according to sites such as Quartz.com and TheDuffyAgency. At first, it may seem strange to contemplate where the money comes from, but according to multiple sites and the hosts themselves, the wealth they gain comed primarily from donations of “rewards”, which are purchased through micro-transactions. Some even get sent money through services such as PayPal.
With all this cash going around, it may seem like paradise to live as a host; earn lots of money and eat lots of delicious food. What’s not to love? Obviously, the sheer amount of food eaten can’t possibly be healthy.
The huge amounts of food that can get consumed in these videos can most definitely become hazardous to one’s health. But how bad is it really? Table after table of food had been calculated to ascertain their total calorie count and the number comes to a whopping average of 2,000 to 4,000 calories. This means that these hosts are eating up to double the amount of calories needed for a healthy lifestyle per sitting.
Gastroenterologist, Doctor Samantha Nazareth, M.D., does not see this behaviour as beneficial to anyone, claiming, “In a country like the USA, with increasing amount of obesity, this is not the correct message to send, nor is this something to try at home.”
Similarly, Dr. Andrew Bates, M.D., assistant professor of surgery to the Renaissance School of Medicine, explains that a repetitive cycle of binging and clean eating is running the risk of causing havoc with the body’s biochemical system. He is quoted as saying, “It’s quite a roller coaster to put your body on. Your body won’t know whether you’re in a feast or famine mode”.
With all this said, it’s no longer a secret as to why Mukbang is a phenomenon – one that can become a double-edged sword to its host.