BY: ALEXANDRIA LEE
The food porn industry is taking over South Korea. These videos aren’t naked Asian girls intertwining with tentacles, shoving eels up various orifices or blowing dead octopuses – instead, the trend is on live-streaming young, thin, attractive people gorging themselves on food. And their otherworldly metabolisms will give Jughead and his pal Hot Dog a run for their money.
“Mok-bang,” which translated in English is a mix of the words “eating” and “broadcast”, is Korea’s latest craze amongst other cultural trends like scary animated webcomics, death by electric fans, and cosmetic plastic surgery. Park Seo-Yeon, who looks more like a woman in her early twenties than one of her actual age of 34, is a major player in mok-bang. Known as “The Diva”, Park broadcasts her massive caloric consumption every evening at 8 PM Korean time. Several thousand viewers tune in to Park’s Afreeca TV page, a social networking and livestreaming video site, to watch Park speak, cook and, most importantly, stuff her face.
In one sitting, Park consumes two entire medium pizzas. Or 30 fried eggs and a box of crab legs. Or five packets of instant noodles. Or 12 beef patties, 12 fried eggs, three servings of spicy pork kimchi soup, and a salad to wash it down. Her meals vary day-by-day, but they’re always big and plentiful.
For Park, food consumption is a career. Originally working at her real estate consulting day job, she quit in January 2014 to focus on eating full-time. Park makes up to $9,300 a month from broadcasting and earns additional revenue and food products through sponsors. She spends $3,000 of her profits purchasing food every month. Through Afreeca TV, viewers can purchase virtual money to give to broadcasters like Park, who then redeem them for real-life cash.
Why do people spend hours watching someone else enjoy delicious food through their computer screens, where they are unable to touch, smell, or eat the concoctions? Aside from the one-time viewers who check out the channel once as a novelty, an explanation is that Park and other mok-bang live-streamers help single people feel a little less lonely. Solo dining is considered a cultural no-no in South Korea, where eating is viewed as an “extremely social, communal activity.” Single-person households, however, are on the rise in the nation. So someone who doesn’t have a dinner partner can open their web browser and be comforted by Park, who talks and interacts with her viewers throughout her six-hour meal.
Another explanation is the voyeurism aspect. While eating is not wholly intimate, few people would like thousands of eyes watching them as they slurp, sip, burp, chomp and chew. There’s a common saying that if it exists, someone is into it, and the attractiveness of Park is surely a factor for people’s support of her meaty endeavours. There is a fetish for anything, and feeding is not that unusual a one.
And it’s not just a sexual thing, either. According to an interview with CNN, Park’s viewer base is 60% women and 40% men. Park has said that one of the best responses she received was from a woman who said watching Park’s eating habits helped her overcome her anorexia. Through seeing someone have an enjoyable relationship with food, a person with disordered eating could be encouraged in their recovery.
It works the opposite way, too. In many East Asian countries, such as China and South Korea, being thin and petite is an obsession that leads to excessive dieting. Alternatively to being encouraged to eat, a more hefty viewer who is trying to slim down may refrain from eating, and feel they are enjoying their own meal through Park’s genuine love for her food.
Park does bring up questions, though. The amount of food she can intake is ridiculous. While viewers see her prep, cook, eat and chat long after her meal (to dissuade accusations of purging), it is a borderline scientific miracle that she remains as thin as she does. Although Park has stated she gained 20 pounds since her show’s inception, it is not noticeable on her small frame, and it’s hard to believe she eats as much as she actually does. And there is always the wonder someone who stumbles onto her show has: when does Park break and use the washroom?