Getting paid to eat sounds like the dream job and the internet has made it possible for some people to earn a living exactly this way.
Like most bizarre trends online, people’s demand popularises them and this is the case with videos of people binge eating in front of a camera.
Videos of people consuming copious amounts of food are getting increasingly popular amongst viewers online. The trend seems to have started in South Korea and such videos are called Mukbang.
Mukbang, muk-bang or meokbang is a live online audiovisual broadcast in which a host eats large amounts of foods while interacting with their audience.
The word Mukbang is a mashup of two Korean words: “mukja,” or “let’s eat” and “bang song,” meaning "broadcast."
Most western vloggers pronounce it exactly as it looks: 'muck-bang'. But, in Korean, it's pronounced 'mook-bong' or 'moak-bahng'.
Such videos are usually live streamed on platforms like AfreecaTV (Korean video streaming service), YouTube or Twitch. After getting popular in Western society, they are also being pre-recorded and posted on YouTube by vloggers from across the world and getting millions of subscribers and views.
In the summer of 2016, video streaming platform Twitch introduced a specific category for such content called ‘social eating’.
Popular amongst dieters
Some internet users are taking the trend to the next level and paying individuals to eat on their behalf.
According to a report by South China Morning Post, Chinese internet users are offering to drink bubble tea, and eat fried chicken and pizza on behalf of health conscious but food loving customers.
The ‘service’ providers film themselves eating or drinking the unhealthy foods and beverages and send the clips to buyers for the cost of the food bought, plus a small ‘service charge’.
In the videos, sellers describe the taste and sensation of eating the food. This allows the receiver to have a second-hand dining experience without consuming the calories. Some people report feeling satisfied without feeling guilty after watching these videos, while others enjoy what the host has to say.
Not only do people find the visual aspects interesting but the sounds are equally as important. Many eating videos include ‘ASMR’ (autonomous sensory meridian response) as a keyword in the title. ASMR videos focus on audio elements and the sounds are often amplified using sensitive microphones placed close to the origin of the noise.
In the case of Mukbangs, streamers get close to the mics and every chew and gulp is heard. Some find these sounds relaxing and for others, it helps them immerse deeper into their ‘virtual eating’ experience.
What is eaten during a Mukbang?
Anything and everything! Since viewers seek the satisfaction of watching others eat big amounts of delicious food without the guilt that would come with it, the bigger the dish, the better.
From ‘Western’ foods like fried chicken, pasta, burgers, fries, pizza and donuts to Asian specialties like noodles, sushi and even live seafood delicacies are popular. Many streamers time themselves eating the food and some take it as a challenge to finish the food. However, finishing the food is not always necessary.
According to a report by Men’s Health magazine, people eat upwards of 4,000 calories in one sitting in these videos.
However, there are downsides of consuming all this food. The report states that the mukbang stars’ bodies suffer the consequences but the money and attention they gain makes it worth it, according to some vloggers the magazine spoke to.
In 2018, the South Korean government announced that it would create and regulate mukbang guidelines by launching the ‘National Obesity Management Comprehensive Measures’. The step was supposed to encourage better public health as such videos might encourage binge eating.
However, this was not well received by the streamers. The Blue House petition board received about 40 petitions against mukbang regulations, which included arguments such as "there is no correlation between mukbang and binge eating" and "the government is infringing on individual freedom".
It is unclear whether the regulations were put in place since the announcement.
Popular Mukbang stars
Hongyu ASMR has 1.13 million subscribers on YouTube.
Stephanie Soo has 1.39 million subscribers on YouTube.
Nikocado Avocado has 1.75 million subscribers on YouTube.
Zach Choi ASMR has 5.04 million subscribers on YouTube.