Mukbang is a shortened Korean word for “eating broadcasts.” In South Korea, the combination of ‘cook’ and ‘food’ has been one of the most popular contents in various broadcasting platforms. Recent TV programs present famous celebrities running restaurants in vacation spots (look up “Youn’s Kitchen” or Kang’s Kitchen”) as well as famous chefs making dishes for their favorite celebrities with ingredients from their fridges in 15 minutes (“Please Take Care of My Refrigerator”). Perhaps these types of cooking shows are common around the world where everyone enjoys scenes of eating. Beyond TV shows, online live streaming platforms like YouTube and Afreeca TV, the biggest Korean live streaming platform, are huge playgrounds for independent broadcasters known as Broadcasting Jockeys (BJs) specialize in mukbang in South Korea. Watch this video to take a deeper look into the world of mukbang from Korea.
Typical mukbang looks like this: A host shows up eating gigantic amount of meal on the table and talking to himself while he constantly interacts with viewers through online chatrooms. In another video, two hosts sit together to cook and share their prepared food while talking about their everyday lives and telling viewers how good it tastes. Now, you may think it is definitively something new and intriguing, but also do not understand the interaction between hosts showing others eating by themselves and thousands of viewers watching others eat food. Furthermore, some well-known mukbang broadcast jockeys even make a lot of money from viewers’ donations. According to the article, a Korean woman earned a monthly average of $9,400 in 2014 and her online success has allowed her to quit her day job. Top BJs have millions subscribers on YouTube and have successfully established themselves and their contents throughout various online media platforms. They are in fact rising digital, one-person businesses.
This South Korean phenomenon has gone global as well that you can easily watch multinational YouTube streamers posted eating broadcasts with their own appetites while directly using the term “mukbang.” Food is definitely more than something to eat now. It has become a significant content in today’s social media and digital world where we taking food pictures before start eating has become almost like rituals and even get satisfied from watching others eat delicious food. So why is this concept of mukbang became the trend recently?
Above all, demographic changes have led to a rapid increase in the number of people living alone, which can be explained by the fact that the number of single-person households is increasing. Nowadays, our society seems to be deepening the disintegration of the family. The most obvious aspect is that it is difficult to see the whole family gathering for dinner every night. The lack of existing emotional dependence on others, particularly family members, may have led to the rise of desire to forget the loneliness. For example, those living in single-person households have to do anything by themselves, but since it is not a simple matter to eat alone, it can be said that the loneliness of eating alone is gone while watching mukbang. Listening to hosts and reading conversations from different viewers can make you feel that you are not alone. Although they are not with you in reality, especially millennials living in the world of social media and online presence are accustomed to virtual reality enough.
In addition, changes in consumption trends have helped the growth of mukbang. There have been a lot of changes in food consumption trends throughout recent years. A number of consumers seeking healthy eating habits tend to eat less and restrain from eating junk food that are paradoxically delicious in most cases. In comparison, mukbang BJs are famous for eating massive amount of food like tens of chicken wings or as many as 10 hamburgers at once. Some viewers pay hosts and ask them to eat things they would love to. That way they could get secondhand satisfactions. Some people also try to avoid eating out, convenient but perceived as unhealthy. For them, menus that streamers eat give ideas for new recipes as well as what viewers would buy at grocery store to cook at home.
The last factor is a change in consumer desire. It ties with the idea of feeling secondhand satisfaction as mentioned above. As the frustration of the desire for complaints about difficult economic conditions to live, difficulties in getting jobs, and political unrest grow, too many people, youngsters in particular, are stressed out and looking for ways to relieve. I believe that it is natural human instinct that people are more obsessed with the desire to eat among different psychological needs. Mukbang fulfills such eating desire and that is way it continues to gain popularity as more and more people feel happy watching other eat even if they do not eat it themselves. Besides, the desire for well-being, which is treasured in the difficult economic realities, is getting bigger and bigger, so that it is possible to solve the problem of eating good food without actually eating anything.
Most importantly though, the widespread mukbang phenomenon would have not been possible without the great influence of the internet and social media platforms these days. Online audiovisual broadcasting is relatively new concept of broadcast platform. In fact, televised network viewership ratings keep decreasing while the new age of media consumers is watching online live streaming shows more than TV shows. Even saying mukbang hosts makes people think of those internet BJs before televised celebrities. The word mukbang also has become the definition of “scene of eating” in general. Hence, it is not just a reference to “eating show” anymore: mukbang can be seen as culture.