The rise and rise of mukbang: what it is, who does it, and where you can watch it
Mukbang—made up of the Korean words for “eating” (meokneun) and “broadcast” (bangsong)—originated in South Korea in the year 2010. It started as a segment on Korean TV variety shows that followed guests around as they ate. The trend expanded onto the South Korean streaming site AfreecaTV, where videos of broadcast jockeys, or BJs (which is the Korean term for a vlogger), sitting and eating a vast array of foods before a camera became popular.
A while back, when I was struggling with insomnia, I asked my Twitter followers to send me ‘cute videos’ to watch. A number of them obliged with videos of animals, knowing my love for animals, and I spent a happy hour laughing and cooing over the antics of adorable cats, dogs, birds, ferrets, baby goats, and even an adventurous pet iguana. Then I clicked on another response to my tweet, and it featured a slim woman seated at a table on which an enormous feast was set. She smiled at the camera, gave her viewers a thumbs-up sign, and then proceeded to eat.
At first, I was going to click away; I don’t mind watching people eating, but I’m not sure I want to sit through a video watching someone eat their way through what I personally thought was way too much food for one person. But as she ate with obvious enjoyment, I continued to watch. She stopped eating in the middle to talk to the camera, narrating titbits about her day, telling people about her news, events that had happened, her thoughts about something that was happening in the world, and even little jokes. I chuckled, laughed, nodded sympathetically, and pretty much watched her eat what I thought was her own body weight in elaborately prepared food that looked, if I have to admit it, absolutely delicious, even though the thought of putting away that much food in one setting made me feel incredibly queasy.
“What did I just watch?” I texted my friend, with a link to the video. She texted back immediately. “It’s called mukbang. It’s quite popular. Look it up.” So, the next day, I did.
According to Dictionary.com, mukbang—made up of the Korean words for “eating” (meokneun) and “broadcast” (bangsong)—originated in South Korea in the year 2010. It started as a segment on Korean TV variety shows that followed guests around as they ate. The trend expanded onto the South Korean streaming site AfreecaTV, where videos of broadcast jockeys, or BJs (which is the Korean term for a vlogger), sitting and eating a vast array of foods before a camera became popular.
Talking during a mukbang broadcast is an integral part of the show, as it draws viewers in and gives them the impression that the vlogger is eating with the viewer. Social interaction and atmosphere is a very important aspect of Korean eating culture, and this is even more heightened in an age when most people live separately from their families, and experience loneliness and isolation in cities. People turn to social media to fill the hole in their lives, and to sites like YouTube. Another reason why mukbang is popular is because of the food; watching people eat food that may not be accessible to you because of dietary restrictions is pleasurable to some.
As I delved deeper into the world of mukbang, I discovered that the late Anthony Bourdain tried mukbang when he was in South Korea in 2011, on his travel show No Reservations. I couldn’t find video footage of his mukbang adventure, but if you can find the episode you must watch it. You can still watch highlights of his trip here.
In my research for this article, I watched quite a few mukbang videos. Only one of those was silent, except for the vlogger talking to her audience. Every other video I watched was extremely noisy. I discovered that one of the most pleasurable aspects of watching mukbang (for some) is listening to it. Mukbang stars tend to go to great lengths to capture the sounds of their eating, slurping, crunching, drinking, biting, chewing, and more. I didn't find this aspect of it enjoyable at all, as I was raised to chew quietly, eat noiselessly, and not draw attention to myself when I ate, but apparently, this is in reference to a growing genre of video trends: ASMR videos. ASMR stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response.” People who are into ASMR find certain sounds very soothing, from the sound of eating to the sound of brushing hair to even the sound of breathing.
Some mukbang stars consume as many as 4000 calories in one sitting. I theorised that eating that much food cannot possibly be good for you (and shouldn’t even be possible, really), and wondered if people who regularly mukbang faced any consequences for their binging. I didn’t have to look that long. Nicholas Perry, the mukbang star who goes by the name of Nikocado Avocado, confessed to Men's Health that regularly gorging on junk food has taken a large toll on his body. Not only has he gained weight (he used to weigh 140 lbs, but now weighs 220 lbs), he also has frequent diarrhoea and problems with his sex life. “I started having erection problems. It never happened until I started doing mukbangs." He also suffers from gas, bloating, and stomach pains.
He's not the only one. Erik Lamkin, an amateur competitive eater and mukbang YouTuber also suffers from "constant farting, water retention, and bouts of diarrhoea", but makes up for it by hydrating a lot, eating greens when he's not eating junk food on camera, and exercising regularly.
I reached out to my doctor friend to ask her what she thought of this overeating, and if it could possibly have any long-term consequences. She had never heard of mukbang, so I explained it to her, and even helpfully sent her some links to videos. She called me a couple of hours later to express concern. “Binging followed by starving is a bad idea because it will cause problems for your body in the long term, especially as your body ages. Many of these mukbang stars appear to be quite young, but once they get to middle age they will find that they are paying the price for their frequent binge eating. When your body never knows if it's on feast or famine mode, it’s a dangerous thing.” She also added that she was concerned about chronic ailments such as the onset of type 2 diabetes, as well as conditions such as high blood pressure. She also added that people who binge eat regularly would find it increasingly difficult to maintain their weight, and would likely end up obese as they got older.
It’s not just the love of food and eating and the adulation of their fans that keep these mukbang stars going, however. Many of them reportedly earn up to $ 10,000 per month, with some mukbang stars making a lot more, particularly in South Korea, where they are not only paid by YouTube but also receive gifts of money from their fans. That is serious money, and it’s understandable why people would want to keep doing it for as long as they possibly can. Mukbang is now slowly becoming popular around the world, and there are some North American stars who are raking in the dollars and the fans by gorging on American fast food on camera. No matter where it’s done, it’s clear that mukbang is not just a trend anymore; it’s here to stay.
So you want to know which mukbang stars to watch on YouTube? Here's a list of sorts, although I strongly urge you to explore YouTube, because there are way too many to name. But here are some of the videos I watched when I was researching this article.
Dorothy 도로시 (3.76 million subscribers)
Stephanie Soo (2.06 million subscribers)
Hyunee (1.55 million subscribers)
Keemi Kim (909K subscribers)
Yuka Kinoshita 木下ゆうか (5.42 million subscribers)
Bethany Gaskin (2.59 million subscribers)
Peggie Neo (967K subscribers)
BenDeen (662K subscribers)
Banzz 밴쯔 (2.51 million subscribers)
Trisha Kay Paytas (4.94 million subscribers)