"Eating videos are taking over YouTube and I can't stop watching."

One day someone was bored, and decided that a fun way to pass their time would be to do the following: a) purchase an obscene amount of food, b) set up a webcam, and c) broadcast them eating said food to the entire Internet.

Someone thought of that. With their brain. Which has (allegedly) been evolving for thousands of years. It can operate complex machinery, it can (to some extent) navigate long-term, highly emotional relationships, it can process information far faster than the brains of our ancestors. And eating in front of a camera was what it came up with.

And I’m not even a little bit disappointed.

It’s called a Mukbang.

The concept originated about six years ago in South Korea. Online broadcasters started to webcast themselves eating a huge amount of food, and like any good idea, it quickly caught on. Mukbang’s became more and more popular, with people eating whatever they wanted in front of an Internet audience, while talking to them, obviously, so as not to make anyone feel weird about the fact that they were just watching a stranger eat.

I was blissfully unaware of this phenomenon until last week, when I entered a deep and mystifying YouTube hole. It was here that I came across a revolutionary – nay, a pioneer – named Trisha Paytas, a YouTuber with over two and a half million subscribers.

My new soul mate. Image via Youtube.

I had heard Trisha's name briefly while hate watching a video where Freelee the Banana Girl hopelessly tried to turn her vegan. <<< Wow, that's a sentence I never thought I'd type.

Anyway, I knew of Trisha.

What I didn't know was that Trisha Paytas is very popular for her Mukbang's.

It didn't take me long to make the discovery. I saw thumbnails of food and a smiling face. I saw words like KFC, CHICKEN, CHICK-FIL-A, MCDONALDS, and PIZZA HUT, and I just had to click.

You know how in movies characters always yell, "It's not what it looks like!"?

Well, this was exactly what it looked like.

A woman buying, and then eating, a lot of food on YouTube.

Watching her eat was like watching Keeping up with the Kardashians meets Man vs. Food. It's weird and you don't really understand why she's doing it but she's kinda funny so you just watch anyway.

"It's like Keeping up with the Kardashians meets Man vs. Food." Image via YouTube.

Perhaps what dug me further and further into this YouTube hole was the ethical dilemma: is there something...a little bit...wrong about this? Or...maybe not? On the one hand, there has to be something more than a little irksome about the fact that 795 million people in the world are starving, while one woman buys more food than she can possibly eat and gets paid to try on the Internet. That's definitely a problem. Surely there is something far more worthwhile she could do with her time than just eating for the sake of eating in front of millions of people.

But then, on the other hand, part of me found it all oddly...refreshing. On a medium that is so often dominated by tiny, seemingly perfect women who eat clean and exercise excessively, it was strangely compelling to watch a woman feel entirely comfortable to eat as much as she can, just because she wants to. Socially, being a woman can often feel like it's about restriction. Restricting how much space you take up, how much you eat and drink, how big your opinions are and how loud your voice is. But Mukbang's throw those stereotypes out the window.


I think.

But I'm pretty sure the 795 million starving people argument far outweighs the 'You never get to see women do this!' argument.

As I dug further, I found two Australian YouTuber's who had been inspired by Trisha Paytas to do a Mukbang. They made a video of them buying food from Chargrill Charlies and then eating it.

YouTuber's Cartia Mallan and Sammy Robinson attempting a Mukbang. Image via YouTube. 

Again, I watched the entire thing.

It was a little awkward because one of them is vegan and no offence but I don't think you can really Mukbang as a vegan. Well, you can, but it's not as intense.



But again, the ethical complexities drew me in. The third ethical problem, of course, is that buying and eating a huge amount of food (that is, far more than you'd normally eat in a similar time frame) looks a lot like binge eating. The difference is that those who suffer from binge eating as a mental health problem don't feel they have control of their behaviour - but we're not sure whether Trisha Paytas or others who post their Mukbang's to YouTube feel like their eating is uncontrollable.

And regardless of whether their behaviour qualifies as 'binge eating', the simple act of eating a huge amount of food in a single sitting for an arbitrary reason (like filming a video), rather than internal hunger cues, is problematic. It wreaks havoc on your body's ability to regulate hunger, and compromises a persons perception of and relationship with food.

I haven't come to any firm conclusions when it comes to these ethical dilemmas. All I know is that I can't stop watching Mukbang's on YouTube, because I can't quite work out what they mean yet.