FELONY OF GLUTTONY: MUKBANG STILL THRIVES ON THE INTERNET
The mukbang challenge continues to entertain people and help some make money. But at what cost?
The mukbang trend was barely noticeable a decade ago, but now the trend is so prevalent in social media. Initially confined to South Korean YouTube channels only, one can now find such content on any social media in any language — sometimes it comes with the ASMR label too.
But what is it about mukbang that makes it so appealing? Why do millions of people enjoy watching others eat?
Mukbang is a compound word derived from the Korean words for "eating" (pronounced meongneun) and "broadcast" (pronounced bangsong). It refers to video material that involves ravenous and passionate consumption of food and beverages for viewers to consume digitally.
As implied above, Mukbang may have originated in South Korea, but it has since spread to mainly other Asian nations and beyond. The mukbang challenge has broken through cultural borders, joining individuals worldwide.
How it became — and remain — a trend
In 2009, South Korean broadcasters would offer nightly episodes that were live-streamed involving massive amounts of food being cooked or ordered before being consumed in front of a virtual audience.
The following year, it became extremely popular, and it has remained so, including in the West.
Many watch it because of the ASMR element, which stands for "autonomous sensory meridian response". People who indulge in this experience claim that they get a lot of enjoyment from watching or listening to everyday activities such as whispering, hair combing, folding clothes, and so on.
There are numerous YouTube channels dedicated to the trend, with many making a living from it. In recent years, the trend has also expanded to Instagram, Tiktok, and other streaming platforms. Mukbang is believed to have received over 100 million views across multiple networks.
YouTubers can make profits on mukbang, according to Soo Tang, whose channel MommyTang has around 500,000 subscribers. In an interview, she claimed that "popular" mukbangers in the U.S. can earn about $100,000 per year.
Furthermore, according to an NPR study, Korean mukbang hosts can earn up to $10,000 each month. These statistics imply multitudes of potential and retained viewers — and the digital goldmine is quickly making its way to the U.S., with prominent corporations like DoorDash and Popeye's Chicken dishing out sponsorships left and right.
Controversies: health effects, animal cruelty, food waste
Although many people watch and appreciate mukbangs, these videos are frequently criticized, especially by health professionals — and perhaps rightfully so.
Pursuing mukbang success on YouTube necessitates a high-calorie diet, leading to potential health issues in the long run. Abbey Sharp, a registered dietician and wellness YouTuber, has been harshly critical of the mukbang trend. She condemns the unpleasant side effects in a popular video.
She emphasizes that Korean-style mukbang is considerably more centered on the companionship of sharing a meal. "What I do have a problem with is that Americans have appropriated this concept of mukbang to no longer be about companionship, but rather to these over-the-top, sensationalized eating challenges," she says in her video — referring to disorderly eating in a clinical setting.
To put what she said in context, YouTuber Nicholas Perry, a notable mukbanger also known as Nikocado Avocado, has long been a center of attention due to his food-related outbursts, raising worries about his mental health — and such was the cost of mukbang fame for him. The drama surrounding his circumstances got so intense, he later revealed in a podcast interview that he abandoned mukbang to pursue a vegan lifestyle and reduce the health risks associated with his extreme eating.
On another front, various reports of the mukbang challenge encouraging animal cruelty have surfaced, particularly since several YouTubers, like Ssoyoung, have been eating live octopuses, lobsters, crabs, sharks, and even fish. This has sparked outrage among many viewers and animal advocates, who have continued to criticize her for brutally treating her meal during or before ingestion.
Some also believe that the trend could lead to an increase in food waste. The Chinese government decided to remove about 13,600 mukbang accounts and associated videos in 2020 as part of its campaign to combat rising food waste.
Despite the prevalent (and valid) criticism, however, it is evident that mukbang is still thriving on the internet, and it doesn't seem that it's going anywhere anytime soon.
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