Government Alarm and Even Weirder Mukbang

As we have seen, reactions to the mukbang fad vary. Some are for it, some abhor it, and others, like the Swedish researchers previously mentioned, find mixed results:

For some, mukbang appears to be a constructive tool in increasing food intake, preventing binge eating, or reducing loneliness; for others, it is clearly a destructive force that may motivate restrictive eating or trigger a relapse into loss-of-control eating.

Just when it seemed that the mukbang scene could not get any more bizarre, a new wrinkle appeared, and if it seems too crazy to be true, the reader is invited to search for “invisible mukbang” or “mukbang without food.” Performers with hefty followings on YouTube and other platforms have pioneered a sub-genre of mukbang, featuring only the sound effects of biting, chewing, gulping, and slurping that so captivate ASMR devotees. That’s right, they pretend to eat invisible food, and make the appropriate noises.

This appears to have started when the Chinese government revived a 2013 “Clean Your Plate” campaign (which originally targeted the lavish banquets held by politicians and the operatives who surround them). Now, of course, conditions are even worse than they were seven years ago, and top officials decry the “shocking and distressing” amount of food waste, with good reason. Iris Deng and Yujie Xue report,

Since last year, the Chinese leadership has repeatedly stressed the importance of food security and assured the public the nation is producing enough to feed its 1.4 billion people. This year, floods ravaged China’s traditional rice production and the coronavirus pandemic disrupted food supply.

China urges its citizens to “maintain a sense of crisis on food security.” There are individual health concerns, too. Apparently, a Chinese mukbang star gained 90 pounds in six months, and died. There have also been accusations of fakery. It is said that some of the well-paid online “big stomachs” actually cheat in various ways, and don’t actually retain the enormous amounts of food in their bodies. Another factor is that some mukbangers are said to be dishonest about the sponsorships that enrich them.

The Chinese government, which operates with different standards from some others, feels free to interfere with search results. If internet users seek such topics as “eating show” or “competitive eating” they are firmly redirected. Journalist Chloe Yorke says,

For instance, on Douyin, when users search for relevant terms such as “big stomach king” (大胃王), they are instead greeted with the message “refuse waste and eat reasonably.”

Other groups also favor the limiting of such videos, and it is easy to see why classically trained actors, singers, and musicians would be repelled by mukbang, which is very difficult to justify as an art form:

The Chinese Association of Performing Arts took measures a step further by issuing a statement stating that it would “resolutely prohibit fake eating, vomiting, overeating, and other extravagant and wasteful live broadcasts.”

As September rolled around, things got more serious. Yujie Xue reported that the Cyberspace Administration of China had shut down more than 13,000 video and live-stream accounts. There are very strong indications that other countries are prepared to follow this example.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Mukbang and Disordered Eating: A Netnographic Analysis of Online Eating Broadcasts,”, 04/10/20
Source: “China’s online eating shows under scrutiny after state media criticism of food waste,” 08/13/20
Source: “Does China’s “Clean Plate” Campaign Spell the End for Mukbang Livestreamers?,”, 08/16/2020
Source: “China’s internet watchdog shuts down 13,600 mukbang accounts for promoting food waste,”, 09/03/20
Image by Matt Brown/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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