One summer ago I didn’t have much to do so, as any bored millennial would do, I browsed the web for new and interesting things that I could watch, or listen to (or a combination of both).What I ended up finding was strange, funny but above all very relatable. It was a video of a woman named MommyTang (this is her username) sitting on the ground in front of a big table where she was able to cook food while talking about a topic. When she finished preparing the food she started to eat it. On camera. My first reaction was one of surprise: how is this a video that thousands of people like to watch? As I was thinking that I realized, to my astonishment, that I had already watched more than half of the video. After that I was left with so many questions: what is this and how did it come to be a ‘thing’? And, why is it a ‘thing’ in the first place? Now I have to confess something to you: that summer I ended up watching quite a lot of those videos and I think that I have found the answer as to why.
What exactly are these videos called, you ask? They’re called Mukbang videos. Mukbang is Korean for “eating broadcast”. This means that a person eats food (usually a lot) while being filmed and then broadcasts this activity for the world to see. The concept sounds weird, and a bit funny, but mukbang videos have been immensely popular. So much so that the people making these videos make a lot of money, some even to the point that they can turn it into their job and live off of the money they make. But what exactly is the appeal of these videos? For me it was the fascination with this phenomenon that kept me going back to these videos. When that fascination faded a bit (but not entirely) I stayed for the recipe ideas, but also to salivate over the food that they were eating. If you really think about it, mukbang videos aren’t really all that strange: food is a basic necessity, but it varies immensely, which allows us to come up with different recipes and play with flavours. Why then not have fun with something that is so basic to us? Secondly, mukbang videos could also be part of the ASMR video category due to the sounds of cutlery touching the food and the (to many gross) smacking sounds of people eating the food. This ASMR experience could add a sense of comfort to mukbang videos as this auditory part often reminds viewers of the social aspect of having a meal on a table with family or friends. This leads me to talk about the comfort that food often brings—for many, eating is an act that brings joy and comfort. Preparing the food also tends to bring relaxation as the repetition of cutting, kneading and putting ingredients in the pan can be quite therapeutic. This is where popular ideas such as “foodporn” come in (which is often used as a hashtag on social media channels such as Instagram) and “foodie” (which is a name for somebody who is a big fan of food and tries to come up with all types of recipes). All in all, mukbang videos show what a joy it is to be able to eat all kinds of foods.
Despite mukbang videos having a very positive impact on people’s perception of food and what you can do with it, it also has a dark side. Often, the people that make these mukbang videos eat quite a lot. Sometimes this is more than what an average person is supposed to eat. People have criticized this as mukbang videos wasting food with viewers leaving messages such as “children in Africa don’t have that much food and you’re wasting it”. Others have critiqued the unhealthy side of eating too much and then broadcasting it online, making it seem as if it is ‘cool’ to eat a lot of food. These critiques are also very valid, as they point to heavy topics such as consumerism and obesity. My personal opinion is that eating should not always be filmed; it’s an act that should be enjoyed mostly with family or friends at a table where social interactions happen in real life. Of course, this is an ideal that can’t always be realised. People work and study and don’t always have time to set the table for an elaborate dinner with close ones. However, this traditional idea is still very nice to do once in a while. Food is something that everybody needs, and mukbang videos are an effect of our obsession with food in this modern world. Apart from the olfactory and sensatory factors, we can now experience the joys of food through a screen. Try watching a mukbang video, and you’ll feel a primordial urge occur in your body: hunger!