The Mukbang trend: doubts, implications and reflections

Eating is not only a physiological need, but also an experience that allows us to taste, recognize flavors and connect with other people. Eating in the company of family or friends causes us to consume a greater amount of food than we would if we were alone.

However, it is not always possible to eat accompanied. So, humans have found alternatives to satisfy our social needs through streaming platforms, which allows interaction between viewers and hosts, also known as streamers.

In South Korea, in 2010, the term ‘meokbang‘ or ‘mukbang‘ (in hangul, 먹방) emerged. It comes from the combination of the Korean words “eat” (meokneun 먹는) and broadcast or transmission (bangsong 방송), to refer to popular food broadcasts.

These videos were disseminated through the platforms of Afreeca TV, YouTube and Twitch, and are characterized by the hosts consuming exaggerated amounts of food, such as 15 hamburgers in 10 minutes. Recently, mukbang went viral on TikTok and Instagram, probably because they show traditional food and exotic dishes from different countries.

Over the years, mukbang has evolved and streamers are dedicated to meeting their viewers expectations. Among the different modalities, you can find ASMR Mukbang (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, for its acronym), which emphasize the sounds of chewing and swallowing. Other videos focus on food textures, which generate stimuli that are relaxing and pleasurable for some people.

Behind the scenes

Although mukbang was created to help people decrease feelings of loneliness and improve their food intake, it has also led to eating disorders and other health problems. South Korean health professionals have expressed concern about the increase in obesity cases among Koreans and have suggested paying greater attention to this phenomenon, including implementing government regulations.

Some of the viewers describe envy and amazement at the copious amounts of food streamers consume without apparent weight gain, but these hosts indicate that they spend several hours a day exercising to be able to ingest large portions of food without gaining weight. However, it is believed that mukbang presenters restrict or purge themselves before and/or after recordings to keep their physiques toned.

On the contrary, in the case of spectators, there are two major extremes. Some participants admit that by seeing other people eat they are “eating indirectly”, thereby losing their appetite and not needing to eat food. Similarly, other viewers report struggling with low appetites and that mukbang helps them increase their own diet without experiencing feelings of guilt.

Food waste

Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, not only because of the methane it produces, but also because of the energy and resources used for food production. For this reason, in South Korea food waste was banned from ending up in landfills and 90% of waste is converted into animal feed, fertilizer and fuel to heat homes. However, food waste still has a major economic impact.

The president of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jingping, launched the Clean Plate campaign, with the purpose of reducing food waste in his country, which he described as “shocking and distressing”. In addition, in 2021 he launched a law against food waste, so mukbang in China became controversial.

Can we continue to eat ostentatiously in front of a camera, in a world where millions of people are starving? Is the popularity of the mukbang an excuse to justify excessive food consumption? Is it necessary to push everything we do to the limit? The answer to these questions is more than obvious.