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As a generation growing up with the internet, we have seen many online trends rising and dying down. Some made sense, while some just didn’t. Scrolling through YouTube’s suggested videos can usually keep one updated about what’s popularly viewed around the world. One such similar scrolling session spiraled into me watching a video of a Japanese woman Yuka Kinoshita eating cheese naan, butter chicken, samosas and whatnot. It was an 8 minute long sped up video of this tiny framed Japanese chirpy, chatty woman answering questions asked by her viewers, along with eating food triple the size of a normal meal. I started watching more of her videos through suggestions, at first only to look at the amount of food she was consuming but then I got interested in the whole dynamics of the video. This video style was called Meokbang which definitely sounded South Korean, and apparently, although new to me, this trend had been around for quite some time. 

Meokbang is a word combining the Korean words meokda (eat) and bangsong (broadcast) meaning- eating broadcast. This concept was fairly popular in Japan in the early 2000s but gaining popularity in South Korea after 2009. The concept of Meokbang came up after users of South Korean internet webcast portals started posting videos of themselves eating and recording themselves. They did so by imitating celebrity food shows and chefs and their TV style commenting on food and tasting. (Yazdanifard & Hakimey, 2015).  The general style of Meokbang is an online broadcast where the broadcasters make videos of themselves. In these videos they sit down, eat huge amounts of food, talk to their viewers about the details of the food, their lives, respond to the questions from their fans and make long slurping, chewing sounds. This gives the viewer a feeling that the broadcaster is close to them and almost creates a simulation which feels like the broadcaster is eating next to them.  These broadcasters also called BJs i.e. Broadcast Jockeys also delve into ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) included eating for their shows to trigger sensations in their viewers. Meokbang with its increasing popularity has managed to become a successful field of fan and viewership based revenue for BJs as they make money by making such videos. Meokbang is also an important cultural component of the proliferation of the South Korean Global Cultural wave called ‘Hallyu’. But here, what I will focus on is the changing ideas of the social meanings of food through Meokbang.

Food in today’s world is a complex cultural component of the society. It’s not just tactile and limited within specific boundaries anymore. The discourse around food has grown and looks at various structures, systems, symbols and cultural meanings in society. The changes in food culture can be traced right from the hunter-gathering, herder growing, cooking as a cultural transformation to mass production and supply of food. From eating with our hands, the coming in of the concept of hygiene, to the usage of tools like cutlery for eating food are all parts of the transformation food has seen (Beardsworth & Keil, 2002 ).

 Documentation, stylizing of food and eating make up the contemporary food trends where food is globalized and sensationalized. The imaging of food is changing, how food looks are changing, how we look at food is changing and how we treat food is changing. Our food choices and eating styles are not completely related to our immediate surroundings anymore. Our eating patterns and styles and tastes in food have adapted to the globalizing world and is based on the proliferation of imagery of food and culture associated with it, and we owe this to the internet. Meokbang is a product of these changing trends.

 Meokbang, although has become a new field of entertainment is problematic in its own ways. It finds itself in a postmodern space as it offers a pornography-like superficial and vicarious sensation for food and creates a condition where food is stripped of all familial, traditional and aesthetic meaning. Food becomes alienated from our life and is then sensationalized through the medium of internet. But it is all justified as it does well for people economically, it caters to people’s needs for new kinds of entertainment and it creates new portals for market promotion of food brands investing in sponsoring and new ideas of sales. In today’s world, Meokbang and a need for something like it have evolved and come into being because of the modern society’s new individualized working culture where more and more people are leaving home to live and work on their own.  With passing time there has been a shift from family and eating food at a table or together to an increase in lonely meals, which has made many people seek the solace of a feeling of a company while eating through Meokbang.

If we look at the phenomenon of Meokbang bottom up we see that yes, Meokbangs are creative outlets for some, they provide company to lone eaters, they have helped people with eating disorders and diets to get comfortable with food and eating habits. But on the other side, a show like that is not good for the image and meaning of food in today’s world as Meokbangs turn food into properties making up the set of a Meokbang video shoot. The act of eating becomes a filmable activity. The food consumed is mainly made to ‘look’ delicious and they become sellable in the eyes of the viewer as the food becomes more and more of a ‘product’ used in the video. Meokbang is a flag bearer of the industrial food of the industrialized society as it enjoys fast food, packaged food, and a global cuisine.

The term food porn can be better understood by taking the Meokbang as an example with reference to commodification and capitalization of food and relating it to pornography and the commodification and capitalization of sex, two of human being’s basic needs. Like porn, Meokbang shows are voyeuristic in the sense that it records people doing the most basic activity like eating and offers a vicarious experience of eating with someone for viewers who eat alone. It’s a clear image of the changes in a globalized food system. In the postmodern space, food is not just about taste and touch as people eat with their eyes, mind etc. Food eating videos like Meokbangs promote this idea of the art of eating and looking for a ‘virtual’ companion to eat with. Things like ‘Food art’ used by various internet content creators on channels like Buzzfeed’s Tasty and others use food as a visual aid for their artistry. Food changes from being necessary and culturally important to becoming an object of entertainment for many.

Meokbang is a complex form of modern entertainment and needs to be studied through many aspects to be understood entirely. But it is definitely a worldwide trend that piques interest among many.

References

Adema, P. (2000). Vicarious Consumption: Food, Television and the Ambiguity of Modernity. The Journal of American Culture, 23(3), 113-123.

Beardsworth, A., & Keil, T. (2002). Sociology on the menu: An invitation to the study of food and society. Routledge.

Yazdanifard, D., & Hakimey, H. (2015, April). The Review of Mokbang (Broadcast Eating) Phenomena and Its Relations with South Korean Culture and Society.

Header Image Courtesy: CGTN

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Written By Pallavi Pillai

A student of eclectic interests, with a passion for writing about the various things happening around the world

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