You are not alone when you enjoy watching people eating

As the booming of the Mukbang industry, what is the audience expecting?

Seafood is the frequently-used food materials in Mukbang. Picture: Flickr

In front of the camera, the young girl wearing delicate makeup is sending a moving live octopus which is as big as half of her face into her mouth. The octopus is sparing all its efforts to escape, but it fails every time. With several tentacles absorbing on her face, the Mukbanger Ssoyoung still tries to give the biggest smile to the audience.

The “hunting” of octopus is just one episode from Ssoyoung’s seafood series, who is a popular Mukbanger from Korea, followed by more than 3 million subscribers on YouTube. As the first-ranked Mukbang series on her home page, each seafood episode could reach more than 20 million views on average.

Even though Ssyoung is known for her insane eating habits, not every Mukbang fancier can accept the way she eats the food. “The Mukbanger who abnormally eats food does not truly love the food.” Silvia Ye, 21 years old, a postgraduate student from China who has been obsessed with Mukbang for 2 years, says.

“They just want to attract the public by using the audiences’ curiosity, but that would not only harm their health but also spreading the wrong idea to the public and their fans, like saying ‘you can try to eat like me.’ which is totally wrong.”

Silvia gains a big comfort from watching Mukbang, especially when she feels hungry. Picture: Silvia

The first time that Silvia began to watch Mukbang is when she was under a big pressure of studying. “By watching the Mukbang, I just feel very happy. The pure happiness from eating food makes me really relaxed.”

The pure happiness from eating food makes me really relaxed.

Since then, she will follow any Mukbangers who like eating the same food as hers, such as fried chicken, desserts, and hotpot. “When you watch someone is eating the food you like but you can’t eat constantly or easily, you will feel like you are also eating them too, especially when you are on a diet which could be a big comfort.”

What is Mukbang?

Mukbang, the combination of the South Korean words “eating” (meokneun) and “broadcast” (bangsong), started from an eating show called Afreeca TV in South Korea in 2008 and then rapidly gained popularity around the world.

The Mukbanger usually adopts two ways of recording, one is live eating which gives no chances of cheating and can also interact with fans directly, and the other method is uploading the edited eating video which often adds some footages that highlight their characteristics like cooking style, the background music, and subtitles.

The “eating broadcast” rapidly gains popularity around the world . Picture: Flickr

With the development of the broadcasting platform in recent years, it appears many different kinds of Mukbang. The most well-known type is from the so-called “Big Belly” Mukbang, the Mukbanger can usually eat a huge amount of food which could be ten times as much as normal capacity in a short time. The representative of the big belly is the Japanese Mukbanger Yuka Kinoshita who has been proved by scientists that she truly has a bigger stomach than the ordinary people. However, many other Mukbangers are just faking to eat a lot through cheating, such as cutting off the images of swallowing or using extreme way like forcing themselves to vomit after eating.

Other than the “big belly” Mukbang, there are also ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) Mukbang which aims to create the sound of eating to comfort the audience, such as the works from YouTuber Zach Chou; Assessment Mukbang which the broadcaster will give comments to different brands of eatables like Mires from China; Normal Mukbang which is sharing the daily menu such as the videos from Hamzy in South Korea and the sensational types which simply want to attract more page views and hits, such as the Tuwei (Earthy) Mukbang.

Kate is an avid fan of Mukbang for 4 years, watching others eating crackling ice cream is a fun thing to do.

“It is quite common that some of my friends don’t understand why I like watching Mukbang, but even when you are a fan of Mukbang, you could also follow different uploaders depends on your appetite.” Says Kate Li, a 23 years old office worker from China who has been addicted to Mukbang for 4 years. “Eating crackling ice cream is my favorite Mukbang because I like hearing the sound when the covered chocolate burst into the soft cream, but sometimes I just can’t help myself from watching the Tuwei Mukbang.”

Tuwei (Earthy) Mukbang

Tuwei (Earthy) Mukbang usually describes a series of short videos with low-quality from online applications like Kuaishou and TikTok in China. The Mukbangers in these videos usually use distorted filters to make their face thinner, talk exaggeratedly with lots of facial expressions, and always put excessive chili sauce or mustard on their food.

Watching Tuwei Mukbang is like prying into someone’s extremity, you expect them to make fool of themselves like the clown but meanwhile, you look down on them for what they did.

“Watching Tuwei Mukbang is like prying into someone’s extremity, subconsciously, you expect them to make fool of themselves like the clown but meanwhile you look down on them for what they did.” Even though Kate often watches these Mukbangs, she also felt sorry for them. “Some people in the Tuwei Mukbang are just selling their misery by eating horrible things and all of us know that they are acting. However, I feel terrible when I see some children are also imitating the way they eat in the video.”

According to the research, considerable income is the main reason why more and more people choose Mukbang as their formal career. Apart from the rewards from their fans, the Mukbanger could also advertise for the food manufacturers and get a commission from the social media platforms. Therefore, when the viewers click on their web page and attract more fans to the platform, the producers can make a profit.

One of the early stage eaters in Korea, Park Seo-Yeon, had quitted her job after becoming the full-time Mukbanger and her live eating broadcast could bring her $9,000 per month. Normally, the senior Mukbang would equip with a professional team to support their operation, for instance, the team of Mires has managed several platforms including Weibo, YouTube, and Facebook to promote her public images, pointing at both Chinese and foreign market. The team with around 20 people can gain over millions of RMB a year which is much higher than the average level in the live broadcast field.

The deformed industry

China has a large customer base for the development of Mukbang industry. Picture: Statista

However, owing to the low starting point of Mukbang, the industry is unavoidable to be flooded with low-quality productions like Tuwei (Earthy) Mukbangs. “Somehow, I feel the Mukbang industry is becoming deformed when more uploaders are consuming their health to get attention.” Kate shows me some of her recommended Mukbang accounts on the platform Bilibili. “It’s impossible to stop the Tuwei Mukbang because the market is there and the platform can’t say ‘I gonna seal your account because you eat too much’. I guess the only thing that we can do is to support the Mukbanger who treats this job seriously.”

The booming of the Mukbang industry in China can not achieve without the development of the internet celebrity economy. The Statista shows that China is the largest online community in the world, which has an internet population of up to 800 million in 2019. Additionally, nearly 70 percent of netizens are using short video applications which provides a large customer base for the Mukbang industry.

It’s just blind worship when you spend money for the sellers you like instead of the product itself.

Like the internet celebrity, most of the Mukbangers will brand themselves through the internet and use their reputation to sell products. “It’s just blind worship when you spend money for the sellers you like instead of the product itself.” Kate once spent a lot on supporting her idol, but now she was totally against such emotional manipulation between the market and the celebrities.

In the same way, the fame of the Mukbanger could never cover up their false marketing. In July 2019, the most popular South Korean Mukbanger, Jeong Man-Su, aka Banzz, is facing up to six-months jail term and fined $4,100 for misleading the customers to buy his diet products. The scandal made Banzz lost more than 600,000 followers on YouTube, though it still leaves over 2 million subscribers, his reputation could never come back.

As the consumers ourselves, it is necessary to follow the platform and bloggers cautiously and make the expenditures reasonable. “‘The rational alone is real’, you can’t decide what do other people watch but at least you can make your own decision.” It’s late at night, Silvia opened her favorite Mukbang as usual. “As long as the Mukbangers show their positive attitude to life and their love for food, there is nothing wrong with the Mukbang itself.”

Get relaxed and watch the Mukbang from the real big belly Yuka.