According to a research co-conducted by Millward Brown Digital, Firefly, and Google in 2014, there was a 280% increase in the number of food-related channel subscribers compared to the previous year. It was the result gained from researchers’ analysis of YouTube data and survey on users’ pattern of watching. The researchers also found out that “while nearly half of all adults watch food videos on YouTube, millennials (ages 18 to 34) view the most food content, watching 30% more food content on YouTube, on average, than other demographics” (qtd. in Delgado et al).
Today’s younger generation enjoy consuming food content online in the globally rising popularity of eating show(mukbang). Why young people have been captivated by watching others eat food? What elements of the show make them follow hosts’ channels as if they were following variety shows? Through this paper, considering that watching eating show has been part of many young people’s daily routine, I would like to explore eating shows’ aspects as the lifestyle entertainment platform. To figure them out, I would firstly look into what eating means to people and how eating shows benefit them. Then, based on the takeaways from the researches, I expected to discover the point in which eating show keeps the audience loyal.
Eating is one of the necessities of our life, along with clothing and housing. We live everyday, supplied with nutrients and energy from foods. As we can see in our daily lives, food has become a medium that promotes interpersonal relationships. At family dinner, school lunch, and get-together, we interact with family members, friends, and colleagues. At someone’s birthday or home party, we even get to know and interact with those we have never met before. Eating show is a virtual version of social eating and gathering. Social interactions accompany us with emotional works; we share and exchange with our feelings with others. In eating shows, the aspects of social and emotional eating are highlighted. Show hosts eat food while chatting with the audience online in real time – as if they were in the same table. I would like to point out that the audience can relieve their loneliness and sadness of eating alone by watching the show. For them, show hosts are their virtual eating partners connected via live streaming and chat.
(Left: a eating show host is eating a hamburger while running a live chat on YouTube; Right: another eating show host has installed a microphone to communicate with his audience in the real time on AfreecaTV.)
According to Justine Reel’s book, Filling Up: The Psychology of Eating, that mainly deals with psychological perspectives of eating, there are those who “soothe feelings of sadness, guilt, or disappointment with food” (53). She emphasizes that emotional feelings are those “separate from biological cues of hunger and fullness” (54). When someone has a meal alone, he or she can face the waves of loneliness. While satisfying hunger, one would still need to seek his solace in loneliness from eating alone. At this demand, eating show can help him overcome both physical hunger and emotional hunger(loneliness) with food dishes.
This is the video interviewing the current Korean eating show hosts. One female host analyzes as one of the reasons why eating show is much loved that among the increase of single-person households, many people choose to watch eating show for ‘a sense of belonging’ in the same table. While watching it, they can make a small talk in chat with the host and many other viewers as it is streamed live. Especially, it is known that the sense of belonging, delivered by eating together, has been traditionally emphasized in South Korea where eating show originated.
(Wherever they are, both the audience and show host can relieve loneliness from eating alone.)
Furthermore, according to Dr. Lina Radcliff, who contributed to Washington Post on April 14, 2017, dining together brings various health benefits to people through “table conversation.” Table conversation, for instance, helps people cope with their “chronic stress” from work and school as they can build intimacy with each other and be comforted by conversation contents. Also, social interactions including the table conversation lowers the risk for Alzheimer’s Dementia (AD). Dr. Lina states that people get harder to switch “between daydreaming and focused attention to important details” as they age according to several theories. Accordingly, she explains that the need of switching gets decreased with the mature brain stimulated by social interactions with family and friends. For those living alone very busy lives in the modern society, watching eating show would be alternatively deliver the benefits equivalent to those of group dining as well as help avoid loneliness when people have a meal alone.
Eating show influences the eating pattern of the audience; it can help them combat eating disorder or go through their diet. I have a personal experience of succeeding in losing some weight with the help of watching eating shows. In my case, watching show hosts eating food deliciously gave me vicarious satisfaction. While trying to find any source that could provide some reasonability of my experience, I encountered this video showing people’s reaction to eating show. Commentators here are given the statement that some of the eating show viewers say that they come to watch it when they wish to have some foods they cannot eat while on diet. On the other hand, others say that watching eating shows is effective in treating anorexia as it stimulates the appetite that has been lost. In this video, you will be able to find a comment The Diva, a Korean eating show host, left to CNN that “one of the best comments I ever received from a viewer who said that she had gotten over her anorexia by watching me eat.”
This article introduces Brae Naomhan, a Canadian eating show creator who has started to film eating shows for herself at the stage of recovery from anorexia since 2015. She is known to have broadcast her eating show videos in order to share with her family members. But, this article reveals the further need to look into how anorexia patients like her become motivated to film the food videos for themselves. It mentions some worries of health experts saying that they still find her reason of filming unclear. Personally, I would like to comment that it is possible for her to have been motivated to broadcast in order to help her eating practices to be regularly fixed.
Lastly, I have recently noticed the rising popularity of ASMR food videos. As a variant derived from eating show, it focuses on delivering to the audience the effect of autonomous sensory meridian response(ASMR). Show host’s sounds of smacking his lips over food, pricking food with fork, and chewing it are viewed as causing pleasing, tingling sensation. Therefore, ASMR food videos usually contain ‘no talking,’ with the original eating show’s value of interactive communication between hosts and viewers decreased.
However, it still serves to benefit viewers by helping them achieve self comfort. According to the citation of psychologist Emma Barratt and Nick Davis by this article, ASMR videos are effective among those in low mood. Previously, they have announced the result of their study that ‘a tingling sensation’ responding to specific audio and visual stimuli bring about relaxation and well-being. For example, not only someone’s ‘whispering’ and ‘slow movements’ but also ‘crisp sounds’ can cause that type of sensation. I agree with the crisp sounds’ effect as I personally find potato chips’ crisp sounds tingling my nerves in a pleasant way while munching on the chips. Furthermore, on the article mentioned above, Davis suggests that there are two types of groups attracted to ASMR food videos:
1) those who react to the audio stimuli of foods shown — “find themselves at ease watching intricate, repetitive processes with soft sounds, like the dull thud from chopping vegetables or pressing the moist rice on a roll of sushi” (qtd. in Sedacca, “This Sensation Is Changing Food Videos As We Know Them)
2) those who react to the visual stimuli of foods shown — “might be responding to the food itself” (qtd. in Sedacca)
These groups commonly seek and receive self-comforting effects by watching ASMR eating shows. If stressed in daily lives, such as at school or work, people can experience a sense of comfort and relaxation with the help of eating sounds or beautiful presentation of foods. This kind of effectiveness reflects eating show’s strength in expressing sensory stimulations helpful to mental care.
Additionally, I conducted a short survey on the audience’s attitude towards eating show using Google Forms. For about a month(the end of March – April 2018), I collected 18 participants’ responses in total. Firstly, the result shows that the majority of the participants(11 out of 18) tend to watch eating show whenever they feel free to do – not on a regular basis. Secondly, it suggests YouTube as the main media platform of eating show; 15 out of 18 answered that they use YouTube to watch it. However, I saw quite various responses to the reason why they watch it.
A single, certain reason, that was chosen dominantly by the participants, did not exist.
- 6 out of 18 said that they watch it for other reasons not listed in the options.
- 4 out of 18 said that they watch it “to avoid loneliness while eating alone.”
- 4 out of 18 said that they watch it “to experience ASMR from eating sounds for self comforting.”
- 3 out of 18 said that they watch it “to feel full vicariously for diet.”
- 1 out of 18 said that he or she watches it “to overcome the loss of appetite.”
Due to the limitation in the survey population, I cannot make a generalization about eating show viewers’ attitude and pattern of watching. I would say that from such a result, I got an impression that people watch it in their own circumstances and interests. Also, it can be viewed that the ASMR effect from eating sounds, which is the least popular reason selected, is still valid as long as it is someone’s reason for watching.
I also asked participants about their primary focus during eating show. The majority of them(11 out of 18) answered that they focus on “foods introduced in the show.” On the other hand, there were some participants(4 out of 18) who said that they are mostly interested in “the host’s appearance, body figure, or personal stories he or she shares while talking.” I thought that some of the audience could consider eating show more as the entertainment content. Considering their interest in hosts’ appearance and personal lives, I also assumed that they would treat show hosts as celebrities.
The survey result above seems to hint at some participants’ tendency to treat show hosts as celebrities. Although they are not the majority, 7 out of 18 answered that they are “following the host on social media to get to know more about his or her private life.” Following figures on social media could be viewed as one of the ways celebrities are consumed by the public, I think. Without the desire to get to know more about someone and to enjoy his or her content, people do not usually choose to follow that person. I believe celebrities get and maintain popularity because of the public’s regular attention in and demand of watching their activities and stories. Eating show hosts, followed by viewers of the show on social media, could be viewed as fulfilling this aspect.
In summary, I have found out eating show’s comprehensive function as the creative platform both managing viewers’ lifestyle and providing entertainment elements. It contributes to promoting viewers’ healthy lifestyle by helping them to fix problematic eating pattern, such as overeating and anorexia, and overcome loneliness. Namely, it cares for both their fitness and mental health. At the same time, it is entertaining – serving to please the audience with ASMR effects. The relaxation and comfort of the audience, exposed to tingling, eating sounds and tempting-looking display of foods, also show the aspect of mental care provided by eating show. Through the research for this paper, I could see that eating show’s royal fan base has been made by its strength in fulfilling viewers’ unsatiated desires to improve the life quality in the dreary modern society.
Sources / Works Cited
1. Delgado, Jocelyn et al. “Millennials Eat Up YouTube Food Videos.” thinkwithgoogle.com, June 2014, https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/consumer-insights/millennials-eat-up-youtube-food-videos/
2. Reel, Justine J. Filling Up: The Psychology of Eating. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Oct 2016. Print.
3. Radcliff, Nina. “Benefits of braking bread together at a table.” The Washington Times, 14 April. 2017, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/apr/14/health-benefits-eating-together/
4. Anderson, Natalya. “FoodTube: Why are people producing – and devouring – food broadcasts?” THE GLOBE AND MAIL, 30 Sep 2016, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/food-trends/foodtube-why-are-people-producing-and-devouring-food-broadcasts/article32168465/
5. Sedacca, Matthew. “This Sensation Is Changing Food Videos As We Know Them.” Eater.com, 8 Feb 2017, https://www.eater.com/2017/2/8/14542896/asmr-youtube-food-video
6. Barratt EL, Davis NJ. (2015) Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state. PeerJ 3:e851 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.851
*The online sources listed here have the direct embed links in the text.