You’ll Never Eat Alone: South Korean Mok-bang

It is useful to note and reflect upon phenomena that may not have direct relevance to our own particular business or project work, but which might provide a out-from-left-field kind of insight. For example,what to make of the South Korean mok-bang or online eating shows where people, often amateurs, prepare food — usually in large quantities or especially mouth-watering or both — and proceed to chow-down on the meal while conversing with the audience through chat-room texts.

Christopher Holmberg, in a piece in the Huffington Post in the spring of 2014, wrote:

Eating has, throughout history, been seen as a social activity, which is why understanding its social context and delineations is integral when trying to comprehend food and eating patterns.

One of the most prominent social revolutions in recent time is the boom of social media. In order to realize the relationship between food and social media, one needs to fully consider the word social in social media.

I cannot think of a better way to illustrate this than to turn to South Korea. In Korea, as in many other countries, eating together with your family is norm; in fact, the Korean word for family literally means “those who eat together.” However, due to a hectic and fast-paced society, this has proven difficult to implement into practice. The rise of single households and long working hours has led to more and more people eating alone. This, in combination with different fashions of excessive dieting, has created many fascinating trends mediated through digital technology.

One of these peculiar trends is Muk-bang, in which a person eats enormous servings of food in front of a webcam, while conversing with the people watching. Muk-bang translates to “eating rooms” — and broadcasted online they have generated virtual celebrities, known for their bottomless appetite and enthusiasm when eating. One of the highest paid eaters, Park Seo-Yeon, makes around $9,000 a month consuming scrumptious food items online. In our highly connected and virtual day and age, food has found its way to social media, or rather, social media has found food.

Below are a few screen grabs from Park Seo-Yeon’s YouTube channel called “The Diva;” you don’t have to understand Korean to instantly get the drift of what makes this show tick.

The Diva

The Diva

Another show, called “What Shall We Eat Today?” features two average Joes learning how to cook meals with occasional tips from a trained chef (the give away is not only is he in chef’s whites, but he is also surrounded by a halo of wisdom and insight!). This show is part of a larger sub-movement of internet shows aimed at showing Korean men how to cook.



Another example is “Mr. Paek’s Home Cooking” that similarly offers tips to kitchen-phobic guys. For some, the shows appear to have had a positive effect, coaxing an interest in cooking.

It will be interesting to see whether this is a short-lived fad, or a phenomena limited to the South Korean culture and context, or a hint of as-yet unmet needs in other markets.

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