What does mukbang trend mean to our contemporary food obsession?

March 31, 2017

By: Rafael Tonon

Why does thousands of people spend time watching videos of strangers eating huge amounts of food online – and what does it matter to you?

It’s an expression quite new for many: mukbang, which means “eating broadcast”, is the activity during which video producers and hosts film themselves eating large quantities of food while interacting in real time with their audience. The trend originated in South Korea (where else?) a couple of years ago and has been big in the country, with hundreds of broadcast jockeys (or BJs) sitting before sprawling feasts and turning their cameras on.

So big, indeed, that the mukbang mania took other countries by storm and ended up in nations like Sweden (!!), where the world’s first public mukbang stations were oficially opened this week, in the cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg – and also another one in Helsinki, Finland. Swedish dumplings chain Beijing8 lets its guests mukbang directly from its restaurants.

According to Beijing8 founder and owner, Mikael Ljunggren, food and social media are really good friends: food became ubiquitous in our digital life. “But I can’t say that I’ve seen any restaurants integrate them. Most restaurants just ask their guests to snap photos of the food and upload on Instagram together with a hashtag. Or check-in via Facebook”, he says,

“We want to explore further into social media and food”, he adds.

That’s why he created well equiped stations where diners can sit, order some food and, in a few seconds, share their meal with the world.


Eating alone – but not much

But why does a trend that says much about Koreans eating behavior can be also replicated with so much eagerness in nordic countries – or anywhere else? More than the fact that Swedens are very tech savvy, the point is that mukbang is a reflection of our contemporary times. Ljunggren says:

“I read that mukbang emerged in Korea because there’s a lot of single-occupant households there. So people started streaming themselves just to have some company”

He adds: “I know for a fact that Sweden, for example, have the most single-occupant households in Europe. So yeah, you do the math”.

In these recent times, when people feel more lonely during lunch and have less time to share a meal with others (friends, family, colleagues…), we long for some company to hang out with and talk to during dinner. It’s a sintomatic response to a new era when people are always accompanied by their screens – and, thanks to the internet, there is always someone on the other side, no matter where or what time it is, right?

By simply broadcasting your meal, you are not alone anymore. Or by turning on your computer, you can watch a blond Swedish awkwardly gulping down some Asian dumplings using the hashi. And this can bring you some memories regarding family meals around the table. There’s something that can connect viewers to their childhood or cultural backgrounds – even better if this is one recipe imediatelly recognizable.

Brain orgasms 

The sensory stimuli that eating broadcasting can provide is the real link to the fact that many people are mukbanging – and other hundreds are watching it. The images of someone eating – with all noisy chewing, slurping, and splashing sauce on their shirt, for instance – can trigger “braingasms”, an orgasm in our brains: a “shivery” sensation through the body and a later relaxation.

Two years ago, experimental psychologists Emma Barratt and Nick Davies published a study about the response of some people to ASMR (“autonomous sensory meridian response”) videos, this euforia that watching someone eating can cause in some people’s brains.

More than the immediate physical sensations, the researchers found that by watching these videos, some viewers could improve their mood for a long time after it.

The major audience of these broadcastings are composed primarily of those who find themselves at ease watching people doing repetitive and noisy movements and the ones who experience a sense of comfort – something that food can cause us.


Meal to share 

Given the perception of mukbang as a growing trend, combined with the media boom and the eager of the millenials to broadcast more and more of their lives with a big help of their computers and smartphones, it would be predictable that even restaurants and other companies would surf the wave. Ljunggren plans to open new mukbang stations in other cities, such as Paris (France) and Florence (Italy).

Restaurants with boadcasting stations will be more and more common. As a phenomenum that started popping up around the world, it will not take long for more people (mainly the young ones, more familiar with the technology and the fact of appearing in front of the cameras – as many of them were born under the flashes) to be adept to the mukbanging to share a meal moment  – since it is not possible to share the food itself. At least, not yet…


Rafael Tonon

+ posts by Rafael

Rafael Tonon is a journalist and food writer. He writes about food, drinks and trends in gastronomy. He contributes to many media outlets, such as Eater, Vice, Slate and more. He maintains the trend food blog What the Fork.

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