Slurping, smacking and chatting: Making 'mukbang' eating videos
By PRECIOUS FONDREN | Star Tribune (Minneapolis) | Published: August 22, 2019
A couple of nights each week, after her corporate 9-to-5 day ends, Tassie Yang does something very few Minnesotans do: She records herself consuming large amounts of food.
With a chatty, casual, girl-next-door appeal, she talks to the camera about the meal she’s prepared or purchased, then slurps and smacks her way through, say, 20 oversized oysters (which she prepared in two styles) or 3 pounds of seafood (King crab legs and tiger shrimp). She then posts the videos on her YouTube channel, Tassie Eats.
It’s just one of one of hundreds of channels on YouTube dedicated to mukbang.
A mash-up of two Korean words that roughly translate to “live eating,” mukbang started about 10 years ago in South Korea. As odd as it sounds, it’s found a following across the United States.
Some fans say they find the videos entertaining, while others maintain that they help curb cravings. And there’s a contingent that plays the videos while they are eating or finds the sounds of others eating to be soothing.
“I used to think it was so ridiculous,” said Yang, who lives in Minneapolis. “Who would watch someone else eat?”
Yang started watching mukbang videos after her personal trainer suggested she try a no-carbohydrate diet.
“Just seeing them eat fatty foods that I couldn’t eat, it made me feel better,” she said.
It wasn’t long before she began filming her own videos.
“It was a crazy idea and I just ran with it,” she said.
In just over two years, Yang has surprised herself by garnering more than 19,000 subscribers and 3 million channel views, making her one of the leading mukbangers in the state.
“I didn’t realize how many people from Minnesota would watch me,” she said. “I never expected to get recognized.”
Yang isn’t the only Minnesotan to engage in the mukbang craze.
Lindsay Greene of “The Hunger Diaries” started creating mukbang videos after she saw the millions of views those channels were getting.
“I was taking a class on YouTube and social media in general, just to see if I could get some insight,” Greene said. “And I went down a rabbit hole looking for keywords and I just ran into these eating shows.”
Now Greene, who posts two videos a week, has more than 50,000 subscribers to her channel.
Much like Yang, Greene said she initially found eating while recording oneself weird, but fascinating.
“It’s one of those things that you’re like ‘What is this? It’s so weird? Why am I watching this?’ But I also could not stop watching it,” she said.
Early on, she admitted she was hesitant to let anyone know what she was watching.
“My fiance would come home and I would shut my computer because I’m like ‘What the hell is he going to think about me watching this?’ ”
To her surprise, her fiance was supportive of her habit. And Greene began uploading her own videos.
While some mukbangers claim they make enough money to quit their jobs, Yang and Greene say they have only attracted a few sponsorships from restaurants they’ve reviewed or YouTube advertisers.
Still, Greene is hopeful.
“I’m able to monetize my videos on YouTube,” she said. “That’s not lucrative yet, but it can be in the future.”
Criticism and praise
Of course, the trend has many critics (including the South Korean government) who say the craze promotes overeating and can lead people to develop an unhealthy relationship with food.
Yang and Greene said they understand the concern, and that they try to stay in tune with their bodies and not overindulge off screen.
Yang recalled a time when she was collaborating with another mukbanger on video. The mukbanger wanted to record them eating one of every item from the White Castle menu -- on top of the crab meal the two initially agreed on eating.
“I almost threw up on camera,” Yang said. “From then on, I only filmed when I was hungry.”
For her part, Greene said she’s no longer gorging online.
When she first started recording, she thought she had to eat enormous quantities to be successful, but she discovered that her videos remained popular even when she ate more moderately.
“I had to get people to see that I’m not a competitive eater,” she said. “I’m really at the mercy of what my body is capable of consuming.”
And both Yang and Greene said they’ve been surprised and touched by comments from their growing number of fans.
“I’ve had a lot of people with eating disorders message me and say that it helped them have an appetite and made them want to eat something,” Greene said.
They’ve also received messages from viewers with dietary restrictions or allergies who say their videos allow them to vicariously enjoy food they can’t eat.
“I got a comment from a mom that said her child in the hospital only eats when they see me eat,” Yang said. “I never expected to have that kind of impact. I just want it to be a positive place where we’re just talking about food.”