On Saturday night, I finished my massive Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger, and folded its foil wrapper into a neat triangle while my friend Andrew swallowed the last bite of his. Then he started on his second Bacon Cheeseburger, a remarkable achievement that was only interrupted by a couple of gulps of Fanta. (COCA-COLA FREESTYLE 4-LYFE.) I kind of wanted a second burger, but kind of just wanted to watch him eat a second burger. I also probably should’ve paid him a couple of bucks, both for the show and for saving me the trouble.
According to the South China Morning Post, some enterprising internet users in China are getting paid to eat McDonald’s, drink bubble tea, and down ‘Western food,’ because they’ve convinced dieters to watch them do it for second-hand satisfaction. The willing participants are placing ads offering to eat or drink pretty much anything in exchange for the cost of the food and a small service fee. In exchange, the buyer gets to stay keto or whatever while listening to a stranger describe how delicious that meal tastes.
“I will honestly eat and drink on your behalf! I will help you eat whatever you want! Don’t worry about getting fat, diabetes, high cholesterol, high pressure—I will take all the risks for you!” one listing cited by the Post read. “If you order, I will eat it. I can take a video and guarantee it will be like you’re right beside me, otherwise I will eat the same thing again!”
The designated diners photograph the food or take video of it from every possible angle, they write detailed essays about it, and, of course, they’ll get graphic while they’re actually eating it. The trend began earlier this month when willing eaters started to advertise on “major e-commerce sites,” although only the sellers know how successful their efforts ultimately were. (One would-be bubble tea drinker contacted by the Post hadn’t actually been hired to eat anything by anyone).
To us, this sounds similar (albeit more highly personalized) to mukbang, South Korea’s own online eating phenomenon. Mukbang, a combination of the Korean word for eating ( muk-ja) and broadcasting ( bang-song), involves people broadcasting themselves eating while a dedicated audience watches them. Although everyone may have their own reasons for tuning in, some people enjoy seeing the food itself, some enjoy being part of the community of viewers and commenters, and some do it so they don’t feel quite as lonely when they’re eating their own meals alone.
But there are those in the audience who like seeing someone else enjoying the foods that they’re trying to push out of their own diets. “My fans tell me that they really love watching me eat because I do so with so much gusto and make everything look so delicious," mukbang broadcaster Park Seo-Yeon, also known as The Diva, told CNN. "A lot of my viewers are on diets and they say they live vicariously through me, or they are hospital patients who only have access to hospital food so they also watch my broadcasts to see me eat."
Back in China, the number of advertisements have diminished since reaching a high several weeks ago, which means there’s probably an opportunity for second-wave eaters. And second-wave buyers. If anyone’s interested, I think Andrew’s probably ready for another burger.