Eating Korean Food for the First Time – Mukbang Contextual Report

Project Summary

My digital artefact project for BCM320 is a mukbang YouTube video called Eating Korean Food for the First Time – Mukbang. 

I developed this project because I wanted to explore mukbang, a core element of Korea’s digital platform, whilst also exploring their food, which is a significant element of Korean culture. I had also never eaten Korean food before, so not only was I able to expand my knowledge of trends in the Korean digital world, but I was also able to try their food to give an all-round immersive experience.

Mukbang fits into the ‘Platform as Transactional Systems’ digital transaction (Athique and Baulch, 2019), as not only is mukbang a form of entertainment, but it is also a form of digital transaction. The mukbang hosts can earn around $10,000 a month from their content, due to the substantial number of viewers who are watching these videos.

Mukbang directly translates to “eating broadcast” in Korean, and it is precisely that. Hosts or ‘mukbangers’ record themselves eating large amounts of food, while they either speak to the viewers, or sit in silence with a microphone amplifying all the sounds of them eating (Choe, 2019). These broadcasts are, more often than not, livestreamed, giving them the opportunity to interact with their host. Mukbang makes these videos a social activity for both parties, being able to digitally interact. 

The problem I am addressing, is that mukbang has faced a lot of backlash due to the unhealthy nature of binge eating so much food, every single day, with many mukbangers known to exercise for hours a day to maintain their shape, but also their income (Kircaburun et al., 2020). There has also been research conducted that has found that the psychological foundations for a lot of the regular viewers of mukbang is diverse and complex (Kircaburun, Harris, Calado and Griffiths, 2020). It can be both beneficial for loneliness, but it can also perpetuate disordered eating (Kircaburun, Harris, Calado and Griffiths, 2020).

I decided to research this project by reviewing existing literature on mukbang videos and exploring the elements of this digital Asian media that were poignant. Mukbang has become its own culture now (Kang, Lee, Kim and Yun, 2020), after originating in Korea, these livestreams are now done all over the world. One element that is consistent regardless of where it was made, is that the food they consume is largely unhealthy, and this is the preference of the viewers (Kircaburun et al., 2020).

Based on my research on mukbang, and after understanding the complexities behind these seemingly harmless videos, I decided to make ‘Eating Korean Food for the First Time – Mukbang’, because I thought I would be able to incorporate the positive elements of mukbang into my video. Discussing themes of combatting loneliness, but also making it clear what my intention with the video was, I was not participating in a monetary digital transaction, I was simply integrating myself into the culture. 

I thought this would be useful for other people interested in learning more about South Korean digital culture, and Korean food, because it is an interactive and entertaining form of digital media.

Analysis of Important Learning Moments and Key Findings

Based on my research of mukbang, I have found that there are many more complex issues associated with mukbang viewing and creation. Not only are the hosts participating in binge eating behaviours, but the more the viewers interact with this kind of content, it can affect their relationship with real-life eating as well (Kircaburun et al., 2020). Many mukbang videos use sound and senses as an involvement strategy with the viewers (Choe, 2019), with microphones amplifying the eating sounds. Mukbang viewers can be people who are seeking social connections, sexual fulfillment, entertainment, escapism, or eating compensations from the videos (Kircaburun, Harris, Calado and Griffiths, 2020).

It is important to understand the growing cultural influence of mukbang and acknowledge how it has spread into a global context (Kang, Lee, Kim and Yun, 2020). Mukbang has become its own culture, and there are hundreds of mukbang videos being made per day, across the world, not just in Korea (Kang, Lee, Kim and Yun, 2020). Being aware of the content of the mukbang broadcasts is essential in understanding the implications of these videos, with some being really detrimental to people with eating disorders (Kircaburun et al., 2020). As discussed, mukbang can have severe implications on mental and physical health, so more research, and more awareness needs to be brought publicly about the risks involved in mukbang (Kang, Lee, Kim and Yun, 2020).

When creating my digital artefact, I wanted it to show my authentic interaction with this niche form of digital Korea. I started the broadcast with a brief overview of mukbang and its origins before I started eating the food. It is almost like a beginner’s introduction to mukbang as well as my introduction to Korean food. I attempted to find signature Korean dishes that were vegetarian, but quickly found that they were few and far between, so I decided to break my pescatarianism for the day. 

I set out my food as I have seen in many mukbang broadcasts, with the food on display, I made an active decision to not do an ASMR mukbang broadcast, as I wanted to talk about the food and my experience with this digital cultural phenomenon, without the distraction of the overwhelming noises.

Concluding Thoughts

By researching mukbang, and then making a mukbang broadcast for my digital artefact, I immersed myself in this element of Korean digital culture that I had no knowledge of prior to this subject. This digital culture is immense and complicated, and there is much more to it than what a casual viewer might see. For myself, I really enjoyed this task, and despite the problematic elements of mukbang, I only made one video, so the risks of disordered eating and obsession did not affect me. However, I can understand the ease at which this digital culture could negatively impact the eating habits of both the host and the viewer. 

I think there needs to be more awareness of the risks involved in participating in mukbang broadcasts, as it does grow globally, so people are aware of the problematic elements, but also of the really beneficial social elements of mukbang as well.

References

Athique, A. and Baulch, E., 2019. Digital transactions in Asia. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Choe, H., 2019. ‘Eating together multimodally: Collaborative eating in mukbang, a Korean livestream of eating’. Language in Society, 48(2), pp.171-208.

Kang, E., Lee, J., Kim, K. and Yun, Y., 2020. ‘The popularity of eating broadcast: Content analysis of “mukbang” YouTube videos, media coverage, and the health impact of “mukbang” on public’. Health Informatics Journal, 26(3), pp.2237-2248.

Kircaburun, K., Harris, A., Calado, F. and Griffiths, M., 2020. ‘The Psychology of Mukbang Watching: A Scoping Review of the Academic and Non-academic Literature’. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 19(4), pp.1190-1213.

Kircaburun, K., Yurdagül, C., Kuss, D., Emirtekin, E. and Griffiths, M., 2020. ‘Problematic Mukbang Watching and Its Relationship to Disordered Eating and Internet Addiction: A Pilot Study Among Emerging Adult Mukbang Watchers.’ International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction.

Lee, A., 2019. The Top 14 South Korean Foods To Try. [online] The Culture Trip. Available at: https://theculturetrip.com/asia/south-korea/articles/14-mouth-watering-south-korean-foods-to-try/

Matthews, H., 2019. Top 10 Untold Truths About Mukbang. [online] BabbleTop. Available at: https://babbletop.com/top-10-untold-truths-about-mukbang/

McCarthy, A., 2017. This Korean Food Phenomenon Is Changing the Internet. [online] Eater. Available at: https://www.eater.com/2017/4/19/15349568/mukbang-videos-korean-youtube

Sacasas, C., n.d. WTF is Mukbang and Why Should You Watch these Viral Korean Videos? An Explainer. [online] Fluent in 3 Months. Available at: https://www.fluentin3months.com/what-is-mukbang/

SBS Food. 2008. About Korean food. [online] Available at: https://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2008/07/01/about-korean-food

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