Being watched while we eat, or watching someone else work through their dinner, is something most of us would feel pretty uncomfortable about.
Why inspect someone trying to fit a sandwich in their mouth? Is it necessary to catch a person spilling spaghetti everywhere? But for some, being watched while they eat has become their actual business – and a lucrative one at that.
‘Mukbang’ is the eating trend that sees people prepping and scoffing vast amounts of fast food alone in a room, while broadcasting live to – and simultaneously chatting with – their thousands (and thousands and thousands) of online followers.
It emerged as a ‘thing’ during the early 2010s in Korea, where mukbang translates as a combination of the Korean words for “eating” and “broadcast”.
The trend’s binge eating stars are known as BJs, or broadcast jockeys, and the most successful amongst them are making huge amounts of money (up to $7,500 a month, according to some reports) off the adverts that play alongside their videos, donations from subscribers, and through sponsorship from the food companies whose meals they’re munching.
And the food itself is almost exclusively junk; think chicken wings upon chicken wings, and enough burgers to feed a family for a week. Or it’s food that’ll induce an instant reaction, like extremely hot and spicy dishes – and they’re eating masses of the stuff.
A huge ‘eating internet’ culture, has grown around the trend, with it also tapping into some of the same soothing vibes as ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) videos.
While some consider it a kind of fetish and others are concerned about the health implications for mukbang presenters, for many people, the videos provide a public service, and a social outlet. It’s thought some find the videos relaxing and calming to watch, while others apparently use it to alleviate the loneliness – the videos offer someone to eat with, even if they’re only accessible via a screen.
And you can’t argue the trend isn’t popular. Korean mukbang star Dorothy for instance, garners more than 350,000 views for each of her videos, while one of her eating spicy noodles has had a whopping 16 million views. Other countries have been following suit too, with American and Australian mukbang YouTubers cropping up.
Surely it’s only a matter of time before British mukbang stars emerge, scoffing trays of scones, gallons of tea and buckets of jam and cream… who wouldn’t want to watch that?!