Mukbangers and the Surplus Food Agendaz

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Issue 13, Volume 113

By Stefanie Chen 

You open a new tab, and the first thing you see is a video thumbnail showing endless amounts of colorful food. You can see 10 stacks of ramen noodles on the left, three cartons of ice cream on the right, and in the middle of it all, a single person, fork and spoon in hand, crazed eyes ready to devour it all. You wonder how anyone could possibly finish all of that food and why they’re doing it in the first place.

Mukbangs are eating broadcasts that showcase a host consuming copious amounts of food while interacting with an online audience, often for entertainment or audiovisual purposes. Originating from South Korean culture, it has become a popular global trend, appearing on platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch. The trend primarily rose to popularity as it recreated the social aspect of dining so that viewers could watch or eat alongside mukbangers without having to physically engage in social activities. However, even with the seemingly vast number of benefits of mukbangs, they also come with their downsides—they promote unhealthy eating habits, long-term health issues, and animal cruelty.

 With the amount of food that most mukbangers eat, it’s no surprise that they’re perpetuating extremely unhealthy eating habits with every video they post. In an almost one-hour-long mukbang video posted by South Korean YouTuber Banzz, he consumed a total of 10 packages of ramen with canned meat, kimchi, and a bowl of rice, which, evidently, is substantially more than how much a person should typically eat in one sitting. Mukbangs play into the idea of cheat meals that people who follow strict diets use as an incentive to continue. The problem is that these cheat meals have been found to have strong ties with eating disorders. In a study conducted by Eva Pila of the University of Western Ontario, 71.3 percent of the over 1.6 million images that had the tag “#cheatmeal” on Instagram qualified as an objective binge episode. In another study by Mattias Strand of the Transcultural Centre in Stockholm, Sweden, it was found that mukbangs were a mentioned topic on Reddit under the eating disorder subreddits r/1200isplenty, r/AnorexiaNervosa, r/BingeEatingDisorder, r/bulimia, and others. Even though the relationship between mukbangers and viewers is merely through a glowing screen, the harm that mukbangs can cause to a person’s relationship with food is more drastic than one may expect.

Of course, consuming so much food can’t possibly be healthy, and there’s nothing quite closer to the truth. Many of the most popular mukbang food items are extremely unhealthy: hamburgers, ramen, fried chicken, and cheesecake, for example. Due to the high sugar, fat, and cholesterol content of these foods, mukbangs take their toll on the human body at a fast rate. According to dietician Theresa Kinsella, mukbangs have many short-term health effects ranging from gastrointestinal distress to fatigue, which may later lead to long-term effects such as heart disease and type two diabetes. Weight gain is another common effect that happens when mukbangers live solely off of saturated fats and caloric intake. Nicokado Avocado, an American mukbanger, gained over 80 pounds from consuming thousands of calories worth of high-fat fried foods in each of his videos, which caused many unspecified chronic health issues that have required him to use an oxygen tank.

Mukbang videos have also had a track record of animal cruelty. Many mukbangers have included live animals as part of their “menu,” eating them raw. One of the most infamous examples of this is South Korean YouTuber Ssoyoung, who went viral for consuming a whole, live squid. In the video, she cut off several of the squid’s tentacles before drowning it in soy sauce, essentially torturing it before killing it and eating it, all on camera. In another video, she played with the live animals and subsequently poured massive amounts of salt on them, all for the sake of garnering over 40 million views and likes. As of  2021, the video has been taken down from her channel as it violates several video regulations. Other animals, such as Urechis unicinctus, the fat innkeeper worm, have also been regularly consumed raw during mukbangs.

With the growing popularity of mukbangs and their firm establishment in international media culture, it would be hard to put a stop to them once and for all. However, as the problematic aspects of mukbangs include their encouragement of unhealthy eating habits and long-term health complications, strategies such as trying to discourage watching mukbangs may help to alleviate this issue. Video streaming services can add an extra charge for anyone who wishes to broadcast mukbangs on their platform. This way, mukbangs aren’t explicitly banned, but there is less of an incentive to do them. Since most mukbangers stream themselves gorging on large quantities of food for the views and, consequently, the money, being forced to pay extra to do this may drive a significant portion of aspiring and current mukbangers away. This can help combat the animal cruelty and unhealthy eating habits that mukbangs promote. Getting rid of this huge social movement may not be the most effective method, but modifying the origins of mukbangs could have a great impact.