Mukbang

Choi Ji-hwan

Mukbang is a live online audiovisual broadcast in which a host eats large amounts of foods while interacting with their audience. Usually done through an internet webcast, mukbang became popular in South Korea in the 2010s. Foods ranging from pizza to noodles are consumed in front of a camera for an internet audience (who pay or not, depending on which platform one is watching). The word is a portmanteau of the Korean words for ‘eating’ (‘meokneun’) and ‘broadcast’ (‘bangsong’).

Some mukbangs involve eating large amounts of food rapidly, while others features hosts savoring small meals at a more normal pace. In 2018, the South Korean government announced that it would create and regulate mukbang guidelines by launching the ‘National Obesity Management Comprehensive Measures,’ which was intended to discourage binge eating.

Korea has formed a food culture based on traditional health discussions and strict etiquette. Recently, however, the emergence of the dominant food culture in Korea and an Internet eating culture that deviates from the traditional identity has drawn attention. First introduced on real-time Internet TV, it now has become a trend in cable channels as well as terrestrial broadcasting.

A newer variant of mukbang called Cookbang focuses on the attractiveness of the person who makes food. South Korean video game players have sometimes broadcast mukbang as breaks during their gaming streams. The popularity of this practice among local users led the video game streaming service Twitch.tv to begin trialing a dedicated ‘Social eating’ category in 2016.

‘The Economist’ once reported that Korean eating shows are popular because of their widespread anxiety and unhappiness in Koreans due to the long-term economic slump. Jeff Yang, an Asian-American cultural critic and senior vice president of the global research firm Kantar Futures, said that mukbang had its origins in ‘the loneliness of unmarried or uncoupled South Koreans, in addition to the inherently social aspect of eating in South Korea.’

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