The word meokbang is a portmanteau of the Korean words meoknun and bangsong – eating and broadcast. Broadcasting jockeys sit in front of webcams and live stream themselves eating vast quantities of food, earning e-money gifted to them by fans. Meokbang can be traced to 2009, with the boom of AfreecaTV as a live video sharing platform in South Korea. Recently, meokbang found its way onto YouTube due to a higher demand from international audiences and an increase in international creators. Though commonly understood as ‘food porn’ (images that portray food in an appealing and appetising way), the phenomenon is better explained as South Korea’s manifestation of food culture, which just as our cooking shows, arose from a unique culture.
A ‘react’ video where American celebrities respond to Meokbang.
When Western media outlets caught wind of the phenomenon known as meokbang, journalists tended to focus on its inherent eccentricity, “…this shit looks strange!” Kate Nibbs wrote in Gizmodo, questioning why these broadcast jockeys get paid to live stream themselves eating food. While undoubtedly foreign to western culture, centring the narrative on the inherent otherness without recognising Australia’s own food culture practices ignores the inherent truth that they, just like us, are merely expressing their shared love of food, albeit in a different way.
In Australia, cooking shows MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules form a large part of our food culture. These shows pander to the audience’s love of discussing food, flavour, its preparation, and yes – even its consumption. Who doesn’t enjoy oggling at Matt Preston judging a dish? These shows aim to delight consumers and build relationships with its viewers, tuned to the specific cultural and social contexts that the audience identifies with.
In the same way that Australia’s melting pot of food culture is representative of its multicultural identity – a prime example being Family Food Fight – the rise of meokbang underscores the rise of South Korea’s economy. Meokbang celebrates consumption and excess, signaling contemporary South Korean affluence and disrupting the nation’s historical relationship with food and hunger, which was common for many until recently.
Not unlike the rise of eating reaction videos littered across YouTube, meokbang is a byproduct of a culture entrenched in the domesticated digital, elevating consumers to become actors and producers of their own, progressively making the line between audience and media more indistinct.
A BuzzFeed video where Americans try Australian ‘Macca’s’
Meokbang, intially foreign and otherly, may well be an opportunity for us to raise a mirror to our own food culture and question – is our relationship with food that different to other cultures? In true multicultual spirit, surely we should not simple enjoy a variety of cuisinces, but also a variety of ideas of how we share our experience of food?