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Why do people watch videos of other people eating?

Millions of viewers on social media platforms are participating in what is known as the 'mukbang' trend.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
3 minute read
A compilation of screenshots showing live-streamers eating in videos uploaded to YouTube.
A compilation of screenshots showing live-streamers eating in videos uploaded to YouTube.

In Malaysia, an unusual trend is taking place. People are filming themselves eating – and uploading the clips to social media where thousands click on the play button and let the videos roll. 

This trend stems from the concept of "mukbang" – an amalgamation of the Korean words "muok-da" (eating) and "bang" (broadcast). Also known as eating shows, mukbang are essentially online broadcasts in which hosts eat while interacting with the audience. 

The concept began gaining traction in 2018, and today, millions head to YouTube – just to watch people eat. 

Locally, mukbang celebrities aim to satisfy their audiences through their varied menus and methods of eating. 

For example, the most popular ASMR or autonomous sensory meridian response videos often result in viewers saying they feel calm and happy just listening to the sound of people chewing their food. 

A local mukbang celebrity who spoke to MalaysiaNow said he picked up the habit of eating in front of the camera after watching South Korean video shows.

During the movement control order triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, he received a lot of "orders".

"Every time I ate, I would make a video call with anyone, including my friends at work," he said, requesting anonymity. 

"After that, my friends asked me to make videos of a higher quality and prepare healthier food, and upload the clips to YouTube." 

His first video only garnered some 300 views. But now, more than two years later, he has more than 13,000 followers. 

The youth in his 20s said he preferred not to make videos of himself eating excessive amounts of food as he did not want anything to go to waste. 

Nevertheless, he began receiving requests for a larger and more varied menu, and longer videos. 

One of his most memorable communications with fans was with an Instagram user who told him that he had been bullied after his parents divorced. 

"He watched my mukbang ASMR videos to release stress," he said. "It was a bit like mental therapy for him." 

Mukbang videos have generated no small amount of debate, over matters from health and lifestyle to even nutritional aspects. 

In the UK, for instance, at the peak of the mukbang trend in 2018, the government warned that it could have negative implications for the way people socialised. 

But the local mukbang celebrity said such videos could also bring comfort to viewers. 

"They enjoy watching other people prepare food and eat it, especially if they've been living alone for a long time," he added. 

Dangers of obsession

Another woman celebrity in Johor said not everything about mukbang videos was positive. 

Several years ago, she said, mukbang videos were all the rage because only a small number of people were confident enough to eat in front of the camera. 

"But now, mukbang is all about marketing products," she said. 

"They bring slimming products into the video, they put cosmetics. For what? For profit," the woman who likewise spoke to MalaysiaNow on condition of anonymity said. 

She said those who agreed to promote products in their videos could be paid up to tens of thousands of ringgit based on the popularity of the celebrity in question. 

"Followers who are obsessed will buy whatever they see," she said. "They don't stop to think whether the product is good or not. 

"And the celebrities they idolise don't care about their safety. They prioritise their profit over everything else, because many are now making a living this way."