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|Revised Romanization||meongneun bangsong|
A mukbang or meokbang (Korean: 먹방, pronounced [mʌk̚.p͈aŋ] (listen)), also known as an eating show, is an online audiovisual broadcast in which a host consumes various quantities of food while interacting with the audience. The genre became popular in South Korea in 2010, and has since become a major contributor to Hallyu (globalized Korean pop culture), along with K-Beauty, K-pop, and Korean dramas, earning and cementing its status as a global trend since the mid-2010s. Varieties of foods ranging from pizza to noodles are consumed in front of a camera. The purpose of mukbang is also sometimes educational, introducing viewers to regional specialties or gourmet spots.
A mukbang may be either prerecorded or streamed live through a webcast on streaming platforms such as AfreecaTV, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch. In the live version, the mukbang host chats with the audience while the audience type in real-time in the live chat room. Eating shows are expanding their influence on internet broadcasting platforms and serve as virtual communities and as venues for active communication among internet users.
Mukbangers in East Asia and North America have gained considerable popularity on numerous social media platforms and have established the mukbang as a possible viable alternative career path with a potential to earn a high income for young South Koreans. By cooking and consuming food on camera for a large audience, mukbangers generate income from advertising, sponsorships, endorsements, as well as viewers' support. However, there has been growing criticism of mukbang's promotion of unhealthy eating habits, animal cruelty, and food waste.
The word mukbang (먹방; meokbang) is a portmanteau of the Korean words for "eating" (먹는; mugneun) and "broadcast/show" (방송; bangsong). It would thus be morphologically comparable to "eatcast" or "eatshow".
Korea has traditionally had a food culture based on healthy eating practices and strict etiquette. However, a new food culture has emerged in Korea characterized by internet eating culture (mukbang). First introduced on the real-time internet TV service AfreecaTV in 2009, it now has become a trend in cable channels as well as terrestrial broadcasting. This form of programming emphasizes the attractiveness of the person who prepares the food. Eating and cooking shows are becoming effective programs for broadcasting companies as production costs are lower than reality entertainment programs.
In each broadcast, a host will interact with their viewers through online chat rooms. Many hosts generate revenue through mukbang by accepting donations or partnering with advertising networks. The popularity of mukbang streams has spread outside of Korea, with online streamers doing their own mukbang streams in other countries. In 2016, Twitch introduced new categories like "social eating" to spotlight them.
An article in contended that the popularity of eating shows can be attributed in part to the widespread anxiety and unhappiness in Koreans due to their country's long-term economic slump. Articles about mukbang have also appeared in The Huffington Post and The Wall Street Journal. The Korean word for eating show, "mukbang," has been widely adopted in other types of eating shows, such as those featuring ASMR on platforms such as YouTube.
This eating performance from South Korea has also rapidly spread in influence and popularity to other Asian countries such as Japan and China. In China, mukbang is called "Chibo"; hosts make their content into short videos and vlogs and upload them onto social media platforms like Weibo.
Mukbang (먹방) emerged from a solo-eating population in South Korea, that found entertainment in watching actors and actresses eating in TV shows and movies. The contrast to the traditional eating culture that revolves around eating from the same communal dishes at the family dinner table has been acknowledged.
It has been suggested one can vicariously satisfy the desire for food by viewing. In Korea, individuals who stream mukbang are called broadcast jockeys (BJs). As a result, high level of interaction BJ-to-viewer and viewer-to-viewer contributes to the sociability aspect of producing and consuming mukbang content. For example, during broadcast jockey Changhyun's interaction with his audience he temporarily paused to follow a fan's directions on what to eat next and how to eat it. Viewers may influence the direction of the stream but the BJ retains control over what he or she eats. Ventriloquism, by which BJs mime the actions of their fans by directing food to the camera in a feeding motion and eating in their stead, is another technique that creates the illusion of a shared experience in one room.
A study conducted by Seoul National University found that within a two-year time frame (April 2017 to April 2019) the term "mukbang" was used in over 100,000 videos from YouTube. It reported that alleviating the feelings of loneliness associated with eating alone may be the primary reason for mukbang's popularity. In a pilot study from February 2022 on mukbang watching and mental health, psychologists lay the foundation for future investigation into the potential detriments of using mukbang, or virtual eating, as a substitute for social experiences. Another reason for mukbang viewing could be its potential sexual appeal. Researchers have argued that mukbangs can be viewed to satisfy eating-related fetishes, and have commented on the sexualized gaze brought about by watching hosts in such a private and intimate state. Mukbang has also been described as a multi-sensory experience and compared to a similar carnal video type, pornography. It has been proposed that strict regulation on pornography and sexual material in Korea could be a contributing factor to the popularity of mukbang. Researchers liken the reduced satisfaction of eating from fervid viewership of mukbang to the diminished satisfaction of sex from overconsumption of pornography. Other studies argue that individuals who watch mukbang do so for entertainment, as an escape from reality, or to get satisfaction from the ASMR aspects of mukbang such as the eating sounds and sensations.
A popular sub-genre of the trend is "cook-bang" (쿡방) show, in which the streamer includes the preparation and cooking of the dishes featured as part of the show.
South Korean video game players have sometimes broadcast mukbang as breaks during their overall streams. The popularity of this practice among local users led the video game streaming service Twitch to begin trialing a dedicated "social eating" category in July 2016; a representative of the service stated that this category is not necessarily specific to mukbang, but would leave the concept open to interpretation by streamers within its guidelines.
Mukbangers incurring income from such videos can earn from advertising. This performance of eating can allow top broadcasters to earn as much as $10,000 a month which does not include sponsorships. Live-streaming platforms like AfreecaTV and Twitch allow viewers to send payments to their favorite streamers.
Creators can also earn income through endorsements, e-books, and product reviews. Bethany Gaskin, under the name Bloveslife for her channel, has made over $1 million from advertising on her videos as reported by The New York Times.
Soo Tang, also known as MommyTang on YouTube, is a mukbanger with 490,000 subscribers on her channel. In an interview with Today Food, Tang claimed that successful mukbangers can earn about $100,000 in a year.
Promotion of unhealthy eating habits
The volume of food and the manner of its consumption in mukbang has been criticized for normalizing and glorifying gluttony or overeating.
In July 2018, the South Korean government announced that it would create and regulate mukbang guidelines by launching the "National Obesity Management Comprehensive Measures". The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced the measures, which were intended to address binge eating and harm to the public health caused by mukbang. Criticisms were levied against the ministry: the Blue House petition board received about 40 petitions against mukbang regulations, which maintained arguments such as "there is no correlation between mukbang and binge eating" and "the government is infringing on individual freedom."
A study, which investigated the popularity of mukbang and its health impacts on the public, analyzed media coverage, articles, and YouTube video content related to "mukbang" and concluded that people who frequently watch mukbang may be more susceptible to adopting poor eating habits. In a survey involving 380 non-nutrition majors at a university in Gyeonggi Province, and their tendencies to watch mukbang and its close variant, cookbang, a significant 29.1% of frequent mukbang-watchers self-diagnosed negative habits, such as increased intake of processed and delivered foods or eating out. Mukbang has also been credited as a dietary restriction device for curbing food cravings and excessive watching may be correlated with the exacerbation or relapse of eating disorders. A netnographic analysis of popular mukbang videos on YouTube revealed a significant number of viewer comments expressing fascination with the ability to remain thin after ingesting large amounts of unhealthy foods, a major subcategory of which attempted to explain this phenomenon by citing intense physical exercise by the hosts, physiological quirks such as a "fast metabolism", or by attributing it to the host's Asian ethnicity. BJs' experiences with fat shaming and their underweight counterparts' with speculation for purging and engaging in other unhealthy eating habits off-camera were also noted.
In 2019, mukbanger Nicholas Perry, known as Nikocado Avocado, shared that the amount of binge eating from mukbang has taken a toll on his health, leading to issues such as erectile dysfunction, frequent diarrhea, sleep apnea, mobility problems and weight gain.
In August 2021, Italian mukbanger Omar Palermo, also known as YouTubo Anche Io, died from a heart attack.
Excessive amounts of food can be consumed and wasted during mukbang.
Some mukbangers chew food and then spit it out, but edit their videos to remove the spitting, to create the false impression that a large volume of food has been consumed. A YouTube mukbanger called Moon Bok Hee was criticized for this practice.
In 2020, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping launched the 'Clean Plate' campaign, calling on the nation to guard against food waste. This campaign prompted state-run media outlets such as CCTV to run reports critical of mukbangers. Users on several Chinese apps received warnings about their mukbang contents and faced an influx of negative comments. Later, Douyin promised to have stricter verification on food-related videos. Other media platforms, including Bilibili and Kuaishou, have encouraged not wasting food.
Incidents of animal cruelty
Several mukbang streamers, particularly Ssoyoung, have received attention and much criticism for inflicting cruelty to living sea creatures before and during their consumption in their mukbang videos. Examples of live animals that Ssoyoung has subjected to prolonged bodily harm while alive include fish, sharks, crabs, squid, and octopuses, and include an incident where Ssoyoung poured table salt onto a basin of live eels, and an incident where squids had their mantles cut off, but were supposedly kept alive before having soy sauce poured over their exposed nerves, inflicting excessive pain and suffering to the animals. In reality the squid were dead before consumption and the supposed "dancing" was the result of involuntary movement. Korean viewers also criticized Ssoyoung for claiming that some of her "exotic" meals were normal in Korean cuisine and culture.
A study in 2021 which addressed Mukbang and the effect of influencers' food consumption on their viewers showed that engaging in "problematic mukbang watching" was positively associated with disordered eating and with internet addiction.
A sulbang (Korean:술방, pronounced [sulpaŋ]) or eating show with alcohol videos can be watched by anyone including minors, which may inadvertently stimulate alcohol consumption among teenagers.
Watching Mukbang videos often create intimacy between the mukbanger and the viewer, and it could increase the likelihood of solo-dining of viewers.
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- Media related to Mukbang at Wikimedia Commons