A takeaway meal from In-N-Out may be fast food that people dig into without much thought, but college student Colette Sexton has one prominent concern on her mind when she eats a burger—getting the perfect first bite.
The 21-year-old California-based mukbanger has over 120,000 followers on TikTok where she posts tightly edited clips of her eating in her car. Burgers make a regular appearance on her page, both because she personally enjoys eating them and because they are often the most popular among her viewers.
But along with sinking her teeth into the perfectly round buns comes the pressure of a one-take wonder performance to get that money shot.
“Sometimes it’s stressful not getting the right bite,” she told VICE. “As far as burgers go, I really have to make sure that first bite gets the crunch, gets the nice view.”
This is just one of the thoughts that scuttle through the head of mukbangers when they’re eating in front of a camera.
Mukbang is a prerecorded or live streamed video that typically sees content creators eating while engaging with viewers. The trend started and first gained popularity in South Korea about a decade ago but has since taken off worldwide.
In the thriving subculture of broadcasted eating, there is a variety of mukbang styles, ranging from crisp 15-second TikTok videos to hour-long live streams. There’s the brain-tingling ASMR type (filled with amplified slurping and chewing sounds), storytime mukbangs (where people tell stories over a meal), and cook-bangs (where creators prepare their food on camera then eat it).
Sexton is a big fan of ASMR mukbang videos and strives to create similar content—hence the emphasis on that soul-satisfying crunch on the first bite in her burger shots.
Sexton’s first mukbang video, which shows her enjoying an In-N-Out meal in her car, went viral almost immediately. But for the most part, Sexton thinks of herself as a pretty casual mukbanger—rather than consuming certain food items solely for mukbang content, she just films whatever she was already going to eat.
Richard Chao, another mukbanger from California better known as @hangryblogger, finds himself with a different problem. With 1.3 million followers on TikTok and another 200,000 on Instagram, Chao is often swamped in non-stop food content production, traveling to an average of three video shoots a day for restaurants he has partnered with.
The sheer number of shoots he has to attend means that he often loses control over what his meals are going to look like.
“Sometimes we don’t get to choose what we eat,” the food-focused content creator told VICE. “So for example, I’m not a big fan of sushi. But you know, we do cover a couple of sushi restaurants. So when I’m there, I still have to make sure I show them love.”
Food videos began as a hobby for Chao but he eventually decided to pursue it full time about three years ago. He gained an online following by taking appetizing Instagram videos of food being prepared, and he has since expanded to mukbang content on TikTok.
Taking food videos and feasting on the regular may sound like a dream come true—Chao doesn’t deny the mouth-watering appeal of his job—but he noted that a ton of work actually goes on behind the scenes. This includes hours of editing and traveling.
Still, as someone who quit his job as a sales manager to become a food content creator, Chao said he can’t really complain.
“It gets tiring. But it’s never as tiring as a nine-to-five job,” he said.
Watching people eat through a screen might sound ridiculous, but mukbang has soared to mass appeal. A 2020 study revealed that these videos are popular for a number of reasons. Some are drawn by the element of vicarious enjoyment, especially when one doesn’t have access to certain foods. For others, mukbangs serve as a coping mechanism for loneliness by providing virtual company. Meanwhile, some viewers simply enjoy the ASMR-inducing eating noises.
According to Chao, there are two types of food his mukbang audience gravitates towards—the eye-catching extreme and the humbly ordinary.
“One is like something that's really big. The bigger it is, the more they want to see you take a bite,” he said. “But another thing is kind of like your everyday item… so eating French fries, chicken tenders, something that’s, like, very affordable and people eat quite often.”
Another prominent subgenre in the mukbang scene is the oogui eater who can consume insane amounts of food without so much as breaking a sweat.
Lori Kim, a college student in Massachusetts, amassed over 160,000 followers on TikTok serving up snappy mukbang videos where she eats one treat after another—an impressive feat for someone who is 5’3.” Her TikTok bio reads: “Who said girls can't eat?”
The 21-year-old told VICE that she has been an avid viewer of mukbang videos since middle school and hopes to use her platform to show that women can eat large amounts of food unrestricted.
In a series of indulgent meals documented on TikTok, she enjoys over 30 pieces of sushi, three bowls of instant noodles, and an assortment of bready desserts, all in a single day.
But since she became a mukbanger, eating huge portions of food seems to have lost some of its excitement. “I wouldn’t say it gets tiring but I would say, sometimes, it does feel repetitive,” she said.
Like Sexton and Chao, Kim pointed out that the technical aspect of content creation is something that mukbangers often pore over. This includes getting the right angles, lighting, and that swoon-worthy bite.
“People always think it’s just eating and stuff,” she said. “We do still have to care about how to present the food, like we try our best to showcase what we’re enjoying.”
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