YouTube is known for fostering strange challenges and tags—from Momo to Tide Pods to the cinnamon challenge. One of the most recent and widespread tags is “mukbang.” But what the heck is it and why did it become so popular? Here’s what you need to know about the South Korean trend.
What is a “mukbang?”
A “mukbang” is a video dedicated to eating in front of a camera. The video style originated in 2010 in South Korea, becoming a trend of someone filming themselves preparing and/or eating a meal, and it’s become widely popular across all audiences.
The word “mukbang” comes from the combination of the Korean word “Muk-ja,” which means “to eat,” and “bang-song,” “to broadcast.” Hence, “mukbang” was born, and with it the potential for another viral video. In South Korea, eating in restaurants is very mush a social activity, and eating outside of the home alone is frowned upon.
Typically, a mukbang involves a meal ranging in size from a regular plate to a sampling of everything from a particular establishment’s menu. YouTube subscribers can see if their favorite creators share in their tastes in food, or if they have interesting dietary habits, and so the video serves as another way to get to know a creator.
Some YouTube creators have built entire channels around making mukbangs, with several million subscribers to show for it. One such creator is Nicholas Perry, known as Nikocado Avocado, who largely focused on quick and snack foods like Hot Cheetos, Takis chips, and pizza. Another is Bethany Gaskin, or Bloveslife, who makes both cooking videos and mukbangs.
The vicarious element of mukbangs may also be a response to diet culture, where people deprive themselves of high-calorie foods they otherwise enjoy. By watching someone else eat it, they get to have a similar experience to eating it themselves. Others say the videos produce an ASMR response, making the hair on their arms raise or otherwise generally comforting them.
Where else do mukbangs happen?
Aside from YouTube, some people do mukbang streams. One common example of mukbang streamers is Korean Pop or K-pop stars, who become “broadcast jockeys,” or people who spend a lot of time live-streaming, similar to Twitch and other streaming platforms Their audiences can pay for different services, bringing in lots of cash for mukbang stars who eat on camera.
A decade of development means that mukbangs have grown from simple meals had on camera. Entire broadcasts on platforms like the Korean Afreeca or American Twitch are dedicated to cooking and eating, much like a cooking show on TV. However, the difference in production style and value can bring audiences closer to their favorite celebrities and creators who do mukbang videos.
Why do mukbangs get a bad wrap?
More recently, mukbang videos have become associated with binge-eating and the promotion of an unhealthy lifestyle. They are also associated with food waste, as less conservative mukbangs feature excessive amounts of food.
Making mukbangs comes with some unintended consequences for those unprepared. Eating several meals’ worth of food at once multiple times in a week can result in several health problems, including erectile dysfunction, digestive issues, and becoming overweight. Mukbanger Erik Lamkin told Men’s Health that he regularly has bloodwork done to make sure he’s staying healthy.
“Everything is fine,” Lamkin told Men’s Health. “I would be more worried if I were an actual competitive eater that traveled around and did contests every weekend.”
For his most popular video, Lamkin did a mukbang challenge where he tried to eat 100,000 calories. For the average person on a 2,000-daily-calorie diet, that’s about 50 days’ worth of food.
As for the opinion of a medical expert, Andrew Bates, M.D. and assistant professor of surgery in the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, told Men’s Health that mukbangs are a “roller coaster” for the human body.
“Your body won’t know whether you’re in feast or famine mode,” he said.
In addition to the body being unable to tell whether or not it should be processing stored fat and carbs, there’s no real answer on what the long-term consequences could be, Bates added. However, Bates said obesity and diabetes could be the most obvious concerns. And if they’ve been doing it long enough, mukbangers could have a really hard time changing those habits.
Aside from directly impacting the health of mukbang creators themselves, they set a poor example for healthy eating and resorting to excess. In a New York Times article about Bethany Gaskin, Dietitian Theresa Kinsella said mukbang videos “glorify overeating,” in addition to ignoring the side effects of overconsumption and disordered eating.
“The short-term health risks are physical discomfort, gastrointestinal distress, lethargy and fatigue,” Kinsella told the New York Times.