Mo’ Food, Mo’ Problems

Don’t you hate it when you’re craving a pizza, but could also really go for a kebab? Me too, and we’re not alone. It’s the question tearing relationships apart: What do you want to eat?

While some of us may argue back and forth on the topic for hours on end, to that, the mukbangers say, “Porqué no los dos? Add a milkshake, a side of fried chicken and some garlic bread too while you’re at it!”

Why not have both?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve probably heard of the internet craze commonly referred to as ‘Mukbang’. These internet videos typically involve one hungry individual, their camera, and an obscene amount of delicious food.

The concept originates all the way from South Korea as a broadcast genre on Afreeca TV. According to most reports, its popularity hinges on the sense of community and social interaction that it provides in a country where shared meals are considered the cultural norm, yet more than 5.2 million citizens are reported to live alone. In contrast, the popularity of westernised mukbangs seems to have taken on an entirely different flavour.

Mukbangs In The Western World

Welcome to 2018. A year where the portion sizes are big and social media is bigger! When scrolling through video platforms like YouTube or Twitch, you’re likely to come across a huge number of uploads with titles like ‘My 10k Calorie Lunch! EPIC CHEAT DAY MUKBANG,’ ‘EATING EVERYTHING ON THE MCDONALD’S MENU,’ or ‘THE ULTIMATE CHOCOLATE CHALLENGE.’

These titles are a pretty accurate reflection of the content, whereby an individual effectively binge-eats copious amounts of unhealthy food on camera. At its core, the westernised mukbang is not so different from its South Korean counterpart, however, the act of substituting traditional Asian meals with western fast-food giants like Pizza Hut and McDonalds is what makes these mukbangs highly problematic.

Affecting over 1.9 billion adults aged 18 or older around the world, it’s no secret that overweight and obesity is already a major public health issue. The World Health Organisation (WHO), cites an increased intake of high-fat, energy-dense foods as the fundamental cause, and suggests restricting the marketing of foods high in sugars, salt and fats – especially those foods aimed at children and teenagers – as a key course of action to reduce obesity.

Have you put the pieces together yet? Mukbangs just went from that friend that always convinces you to get dessert, to the straight up Antichrist of healthy food habits for two key reasons:

#1 Marketing Bad Habits

Research repeatedly demonstrates that exposure to unhealthy food advertising has an impact on children, adolescence and even adult diets, causing them to exhibit a greater preference for high-fat, high-sugar foods and, crucially, eat more. Adolescence in particular is an important age for obesity prevention, as this is when we become more autonomous, and start making our own decisions about eating and activity.

Because of this, we have seen the implementation of food advertising restrictions around the world. However, these are increasingly difficult to enforce in a digital setting. Take for example, the below video by the ‘Queen of Mukbang’ herself: Trisha Paytas.

 

Although this video was not sponsored, the food depicted and discussed is from a commercial food chain, therefore, it blurs the boundary between content and marketing in a way that is impossible to police. Unfortunately, this is the case for most western mukbangs, which piggyback off the success of well-known brands to maximise views.

#2 Projecting a New Normal

Another key issue surrounding mukbangs is that it glorifies the act of extreme over-consumption and binge-eating, which should in fact be considered a serious eating disorder. As the trend continues to grow within the western world, exposure to mukbangs may normalise these unhealthy behaviours and set a precedent for new social norms surrounding food.

Again, this is especially problematic for younger audiences, who rely on social influences such as one’s peer group or favourite social media star to determine their motivations, decisions and behaviours.
 
Despite all the risks, mukbangs are not inherently bad. Some viewers even report using them to vicariously consume unhealthy foods when on a diet, or even as a way to trigger one’s appetite when recovering from disorders like anorexia. The key ‘takeaway’ here is that we strive to ensure parents, schools and governments actively work together to educate and promote healthy food habits, particularly among younger generations.

To learn more about eating disorders, or to get in touch with a specialist you can visit https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/our-services/helpline/

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