Freakish Overeating Fad Sparks Frugal Backlash

  • By Jung Sang-hyuk

    August 12, 2022 08:44

    The bizarre social-media craze for videos of baby-faced influencers consuming freakishly large portions of food, known as mukbang, is being countered by a new wave of people who graze on dainty little morsels.
    TV celebrity Park So-hyun (51) has become one of the most-sought-after guests on entertainment programs for no better reason than her birdlike appetite. She has let it be known that she only eats tiny morsels or has a vanilla latte for lunch or dinner.
    Mukbang videos are one of the odder phenomena on social media, where young, often pretty people who appear to have trained themselves to consume gigantic portions of food in one sitting have attracted a huge following for their queasy exploits.
    But for every fad there must be a backlash. Comedian Ahn Young-mi is another celebrity who eats only small portions, making a frugal bowl of bibimbap or rice mixed with meat and vegetables last her for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
    Model-turned actor Joo Woo-jae eats a single doughnut for breakfast, while hip-hop producer Code Kunst eats just two bananas and a sweet potato all day. While that would usually arouse concerns of eating disorders, they have attracted fans merely by not being seen to eat very much.
    The main reason seems to be disgust at the fad, with its associations of shameless gluttony in straitened times. Instead, the new influencers teetering on the brink of inedia seem to symbolize dedication to environmental awareness, climate change, and self-denial in the face of global challenges.
    Some YouTubers have unsurprisingly been found to vomit everything up again after they finish their "shows," which disappointed fans who had fallen under their freakish spell.
    Media critic Ha Jae-keun said, "There has been an increasing awareness of the wastefulness of such shows and a knee-jerk appreciation of people who can survive on almost nothing."
    The trend also reflects runaway consumer prices. Park said, "I only spend about W10,000 on food a day," while YouTuber Heebab spends a reported W10 million on food a month (US$1=W1,303).
    So has everybody gone mad? Kwak Geum-joo at Seoul National University, says it is all part of a greater pattern. "Because of rising inflation, the social trend is leaning toward belt-tightening," she said. "Declining wages seems to be affecting what contents people watch."
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