Eating by yourself can be lonely. But whenever there is a hole in our hearts, the Web will come along and shove food in it, so to speak. Several pounds of food a day, it turns out.
Ladles and gentlemints, I give you “mok-bang.”
The term “mok-bang” is a mash-up of Korean words that mean “eating” and “broadcast” and it’s the latest online craze in South Korea. In a country where eating alone is culturally frowned upon (the word for “family” in Korean translates to “those who eat together”) but where nearly a quarter of households contain only one person, finding a dining companion can be problematic.
That’s where The Diva comes in.
Park Seo-Yeon, a petite and doe-eyed woman in her thirties who has been blessed with an unnatural metabolism, is one of the breakout stars of the mok-bang TV shows featured on the live-stream channel Afreeca.com (if you don’t read Korean, you can find her on YouTube here). Tens of thousands of lonely — and we presume hungry — South Koreans sit down in front of their computers every night to watch her eat a meal the size of a Chevy Tahoe.
See it for yourself: Check her out on YouTube.
What’s the deal?
Watching people eat is essentially food porn on steroids. If you don’t want to eat alone, or if you’re just a fan of gluttony in general, you can virtually sit across the table from The Diva and watch as she enthusiastically puts away pounds of mouthwatering food, chattering away to her viewers like they were right there in the room with her. A microphone is strategically placed near her so that, in addition to hearing her slurp, chew, and smack her lips, viewers can also hear her responses to online questions, like, “Do you upchuck what you eat?” (Answer: No, and she now hangs out on camera for a couple of hours after her broadcast to prove it) or, “When do you go to the bathroom?” (thus far unanswered).
It’s a fascinating form of gastronomic voyeurism, and probably a very effective lesson in portion control. “It feels as though I’m eating that much food with her,” one female viewer told Reuters.
The Diva agrees. “People enjoy the vicarious pleasure with my online show when they can’t eat that much, or don’t want to eat food at night, or are on a diet,” she said in a Reuters interview. “Loneliness is another crucial factor. The show is addictive, as you can communicate with thousands of people at home.”
The Diva claims that she has packed on at least 20 pounds since starting her channel, although she isn’t too bothered by that, what with all the money she’s raking in.
Oh, yes. As a way to show their thanks to gastronomic Broadcast Jockeys, as they’re called, viewers can make donations in the form of clickable Star Balloons, which the Jockeys can then exchange for real Korean currency.
Not a cheap date
The Star Balloons are sold in denominations of $1 to $50, and popular Jockeys earn up to $1,000 a day.
The demand for this kind of entertainment is so great that The Diva recently quit her job as a consultant to become a full-time face stuffer. And she is far from the only one.
Former army chef Choi Ji-hwan is another popular Jockey who prepares and scarfs down enormous meals with great gusto. He aspires to be a television comedian one day, and he’s actually quite entertaining to watch, as long as you don’t mind the two rifles that are parked behind him like talismans in his kitchen.
So watching mok-bang may be a social thing for Koreans, who increasingly find themselves without a dining companion. It’s also a bizarre way to enjoy gorging yourself on all sorts of food without consuming a single calorie.
If you’re wondering, however, whether consuming abnormal amounts of food for the voyeuristic pleasure of total strangers can send you over the edge, there’s always this guy:
I think I’ll be skipping lunch.