In the hallowed hall of food fads, what in the world could be weirder than mukbang? A Korean word, loosely translated it means something like eat-casting. Basically, it's watching long YouTube videos of other people eating.
Bethany Gaskin may be the current queen of Mukbang on YouTube, where she's known as B-Love. Her daily videos have been watched by 2.3 million people more than 520 million times.
Correspondent David Pogue asked Gaskin, "If you told people the whole deal – like, 'I sit there for half an hour and eat this giant mound of seafood ' – what would they say?"
"People will just, you know, say, 'Oh, okay,' with the real weird look on their faces," she laughed.
"Growing up, I haven't had the best life. You know, living in poverty. So, I know struggle, but I also understand what it takes to work hard to get yourself ahead."
And get ahead, she has. She makes money through ads on her Youtube channel. "In 15 months of doing this, I became a millionaire," she said.
And you should see her fan mail: "Dear Bethany and Nate, words cannot express my love for you. Thank you for helping us and relieving stress."
Mukbang began in South Korea in about 2008. "Mukbang was the result of the perfect storm of a series of economic, political and social changes," said Robert Ku, the Chair of Asian Studies at Binghamton University in New York. "This includes the change in family structures, where more and more people were eating alone. In Korea, the digital technology was something that was embraced very early on. And so mukbang emerged at a time when I think a lot of people who are eating alone could use the digital realm to find some sort of companionship."
To find out the appeal for American, Pogue spoke to some fans across the country – over video (which seemed appropriate).
Kristin and Jamil Wallace of California are in it for the food. "Every single day, I would say we watch," Kristin said. "Usually mukbangers are eating indulgent foods that normally you're not gonna have in front of you."
Kelly Halliday watches the videos to have company: "I just think you kind of feel like you're not by yourself, you know what I mean? And that's a good feeling, to know that somebody else can identify what you might be going through."
And 14-year-old Kirsten is in it for the sounds – the smacking and crunching. "It's not for the food; it helps with my anxiety, and it helps me sleep at night," she said. "I kinda have ADHD, so I need something to play."
Meanwhile, mukbang has changed Bethany Gaskin's life completely. Her husband Nate quit his job as an engineer to edit her videos and manage the business. She's started selling her dipping sauce on Amazon; and she's still posting a new mukbang video every single day.
Pogue said, "I can't say I understand it."
"I don't understand it either, but I just do it," Gaskin said. "To have people watch you eat, it's weird. But the numbers are looking good, the money is right, so I'm going to keep on doing it!"
For more info:
- Bethany Gaskin (B-Love) on YouTube
- Robert Ku, Asian and Asian American Studies, Binghamton University
- "Dubious Gastronomy: The Cultural Politics of Eating Asian in the U.S.A." by Robert Ji-Song Ku (University of Hawai'i Press), in Hardcover, Trade Paperback and eBook formats, available via Amazon
- "Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader," edited by Robert Ji-Song Ku, Martin F. Manalansan and Anita Mannur (New York University Press), in Hardcover, Trade Paperback and eBook formats, available via Amazon
- "Pop Empires: Transnational and Diasporic Flows of India and Korea," edited by S. Heijin Lee, Monika Mehta, and Robert Ji-Song Ku (University of Hawai'i Press), in Hardcover, Trade Paperback and eBook formats, available via Amazon
Story produced by Sara Kugel.