Mukbang, a livestreaming genre from South Korea showing binge-eating in front of a camera, has become a new target for state-owned broadcaster CCTV criticizing it for “food wastage.” Just a couple of days ago, President Xi Jinping started a campaign against food waste, as the country is dealing with food security issues caused by floods and COVID-19.
Wednesday morning’s CCTV news section shamed mukbangers, saying that the big-eater livestreams are an “extreme case of food wastage.” Behaviors such as excessive takeout orders and leftover food in restaurants were also called out.
“This is a very bad signal. The direction [of these videos] is worrying,” said Chen Shengkui, a researcher at the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, in CCTV’s news show. “It goes completely against the idea of creating a sense of preservation in our society and reducing food waste.”
The debate erupts at a time when President Xi was pushing his “empty plate” campaign to curb a food waste situation in China that he called “shocking and distressing.” In a Xinhuanet report on Tuesday, Xi quoted an ancient poem: “Who knows that of our meal in the dish, every grain comes after hard toil?”
“Although our country has consecutive harvests, we should maintain a sense of crisis about the food security,” he said. “The impact of this year’s pandemic has also alerted us.” In addition, China has been battling severe flooding in recent weeks.
Douyu, a Tencent-backed livestreaming platform, issued a statement in response to the criticism soon afterward, promising stricter moderation on food-related content. Meanwhile, other entertainment platforms like Bilibili and Kuaishou encouraged users to “cherish food, and eat reasonably”, quickly complying with the national directive.
The craze for mukbang has been alive for several years now. There’s a fraction of society that genuinely enjoys watching hosts indulge in massive feasts—oftentimes eating fatty, high-calorie food—and, through it, gets a sense of satisfaction and belonging.
Mizi Jun, a female Chinese mukbanger, has 2.7 million followers on the video-sharing site Bilibili. A video by Japanese youtuber Yuka Kinoshita eating noodles racked up nearly 5 million views on the site. Korean mukbang star Banzz, who has 2.3 million fans on YouTube, also opened a channel on Bilibili. All of them earn a boatload of money eating live on screen.
There are other shady sides of this business. To be able to perform longer and gain more fans, some hosts resort to emetics. Others fool their audiences with video-editing tricks, or by taking in strange items such as live octopuses, to fabricate clickbait videos.
While excess-fat and calorie intakes already take a toll on the health of many mukbangers, help might be approaching in form of public anger. And the banquet could be closing soon.