Mukbang: The Trendiest Food Phenomenon

If you’ve been on YouTube anytime in the past few years, you might have seen a handful of eye-catching video thumbnails that show people eating enormous amounts of food - popular choices being noodles, fried chicken, and anything that involves melted cheese. These videos are called “mukbangs,” a combination of the Korean words “meokneun” and “bangsong,” which literally translate to 'eating broadcast.'

'Mukbang,' like the word itself suggests, originated in South Korea in the late 2000s via AfreecaTV, a popular Korean video streaming service that enabled people to livestream themselves eating while simultaneously interacting with their viewers. Mukbang, however, didn’t become popular in Western media until 2015, when Fine Brothers Entertainment (FBE) released their viral video, “YouTubers React to Mukbang (Eating Shows).” Today, mukbang videos are abundant on various platforms, including Instagram “fan accounts” that feature clips of famous mukbangers. The eating shot is also popular on the channels of YouTube stars that are not food-focused, such as Trisha Paytas and Bretman Rock, and has even bled into other video categories such as ASMR and “storytelling” videos.

How and why has mukbang become so popular? According to Asian-American cultural critic, Jeff Yang, this is due to "the loneliness of unmarried or uncoupled [South] Koreans, in addition to the inherently social aspect of eating in [South] Korea.” Being able to eat alone at home while watching someone else eat on a screen with dozens of fellow viewers allows people to combat such loneliness by eating with others they don't have to actually meet. Michael Hurt, the director of cultural studies at Busan University of Foreign Studies claims that in today’s tech-driven world, “social interaction can’t happen—can barely be understood—without being mediated in some way.” Other times, the reasons aren’t so serious: some people just like food, and they can eat vicariously through these mukbangers.

Whatever the reasons are, mukbang is here to stay and may even change our future eating culture. While some don’t experience this issue, many people view eating as an inherently social activity, feeling uncomfortable at the thought of eating alone. But as mukbang videos become more and more popular, the sight of someone eating alone becomes more and more familiar, thus de-stigmatizing the idea that eating alone is awkward, uncomfortable, or weird.If you’re interested in mukbang, check out some of my personal favorites: Stephanie Soo (she tells super interesting stories as she eats), Yuka Kinoshita (her ability to consume thousands of calories in one sitting has attracted millions of views, and I personally enjoy seeing the various Japan-exclusive fast food menu items), and Banzz (he rocks the more OG-mukbang style, which can’t really be found in Western mukbang channels). If you’re interested in mukbang ASMR, check out popular channels such as SAS-ASMR, suellASMR, and ASMRTheChew. Have fun viewing your greatest food fantasies!

Image courtesy of Banzz, Stephanie Soo, and SAS-ASMR.