I watch mukbang videos. There, I said it.
I’m probably part of a small percentage of people who actually enjoy this “eating show,” at least based on the reactions I get from people I admit this to.
My goal as an admittedly unhealthy, neophyte Koreaboo with too much internet in his veins is to destigmatize what it means to find enjoyment in mukbang. But first, what does mukbang even mean? The term is a Korean slang. Muk means “to eat,” and bang is from bangsong, which means “broadcasting.” “Mukbangers” either prerecord or livestream themselves finishing oversized servings of whatever newfangled food is trending at the time. It sounds simple enough to understand, but it’s also understandable why many just “don’t get it.”
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Let me illustrate. You know people who watch cooking shows all the time, yet have no intention of ever recreating the dish they just saw made before them? Watching mukbang is kind of like that. It’s finding great satisfaction in watching a chef or TV host plate a dish and taste the fruits of their labor. And that’s that. That’s the end goal. No writing down of recipes involved, no market trips and no cooking. If you can relate to that, then you’ll understand why mukbang is popular.
There’s a very high probability you first heard of these videos during the heyday of the fire noodle challenge.
But mukbang is not just noodles per se. There are buckets of fried chicken involved, served on a platter or a sprawling sangkalan, grazing table style, sharing space with mounds of rice and heaps of crab and lobster waiting to be cracked. There’s also food from various cultures that hosts can’t wait to try for the first time. For the mukbanger, the mukbang is one-part food review and one-part binge eating.
As someone who experiments with various extreme fasts — which I don’t advise — in lieu of a proper diet and exercise, I turn to mukbang as a sense of wish fulfillment. I find enjoyment in watching people eat the things I can’t. Sometimes I even take note of the things I want to try once my period of fasting ends.
Others will find a different joy in it. A different purpose.
Some people have found a way to push the concept of mukbang into something sexual. In the far corners of the web, mukbang has given the phrase “food porn” another definition. It’s no longer just gratuitous images of luscious food. (If you thought hotdogs weren’t disgusting enough on their own, you definitely won’t want to go down this rabbit hole.) “Mukbang” is now a pretty common keyword to search in porn sites, and you’ll definitely come across some disturbing imagery –– but only if you’re actively looking for them.
This sexualization of mukbang makes it easy for others to dismiss it as just fetish. But there’s really more to its popularity. The overarching reason mukbang became so big is because people are lonely. I have a family to have dinner with, friends who are always down to grab a bite in some restaurant we frequent, I’m never too far away from a dinner companion. But many can’t say the same.
A lot of people all over the world are starved for human contact. I believe the role of mukbangers to their audiences is to be that someone who fills that void. These hosts make conversation, bring up topics of interest, ask people about their day. The internet has bred this lifestyle where people can just shut the real world and get immersed on a filtered universe, where we can work without the warm company of others—but we will always crave contact, and sometimes a person eating from a rectangular box on YouTube is the most human interaction we can afford.
As I said, I watch mukbang because I get off just on the voyeuristic thrill of eating through others, but I don’t want to be the judge of someone who is just, plain and simple, looking for some company. For people who get off on “playing with their food” though, that might be something I can’t stomach just yet. We all have our reasons why we enjoy the things we do.
The internet may have created a much lonelier world, but it has also made happy connections possible. And it has become a breeding ground for the weird and wonderful. Sometimes it can’t be helped that one of its products manages to be both.