What does today’s plethora of reality tv shows related to all kinds of food—healthy dishes, sexy dishes, slimming dishes, fattening dishes, colorful dishes, trendy delicious dishes—say about our values and the validity of our moral stances? If we are enthralled by the sight of someone paying half a month’s salary for some imported fish or spending an inordinate amount of time making a pasta dish, how can we face a Third World that is desperate for a handful of rice and a drink of clean water?
We all know the term We First Feast With Our Eyes. For at least a half a century, we’ve seen a wide variety of food on media display. The visual plating of the food is almost as divine as the meticulous procedures used to make them. Food is a social and private activity that brings both shame and pleasure, but watching others eat is also quite pleasurable. Indulging in “food porn” is a phenomenon that’s perfect for the internet, where you can be both a voyeur and a student in this era of digital media. We can feast with our eyes around the world, despite our caloric or travel limitations. On YouTube, you can indulge in the thrill of eating till you can’t take it anymore.
The pioneering food television in the last 21st is tied to domesticity, and cultural exposure. YouTube gives viewers more fringe access to eaters around the world. You can watch people eat to the point of purging, consume meticulously and carefully, or dine at places that only exist in your dreams. Food connects to our deepest desires. In a culture where eating is monitored and scrutinized, watching someone eat three thousand calories in one sitting can be electrifying for certain viewers. Perhaps the most fringe of tastes, when it comes to watching people eat, is feederism which is derived from fat fetishism. Feeder fetish videos, usually entail overweight women consuming or being fed large amounts of high caloric food. Whether you’re a viewer who is titillated by the experience and subscribe to the fetish, or you’re someone who’s on a calorie restricted diet, the videos provide a cathartic and euphoric experience. You can also be on the other end of the spectrum and watch “fit girls” describe what they eat in a day and become inspired to imitate their limited diet in a pursuit to look like them. The videos make us look deep down at the relationships we have with ourselves. For those who want to find food adventures or follow informed thrill seekers, there’s a niche for that. Others need the social interaction of eating with someone through a computer screen, there’s plenty of videos of that as well.
In Korea, Mukbang, which means “eating broadcast,” has gained immense popularity from within and outside of Korea. BJs (broadcast jockeys) know how to appeal to viewers with large banquet spreads sometimes on their college desks. Their performance matters, if you enjoy what you see you could be a top BJ, who make $10,000 per month. Unlike the feeder fetish, the Mukbang performer could look like your typical Instagram model or the skinny awkward boy in your dorm room. It’s a lucrative business because viewers interact with BJs on a live stream, giving them money as they adhere to certain visual requests, and the influx of comments that appear on the live stream can give you the feeling of a lively dinner party. The juxtaposition of visuals has added to its appeal, a petite model-like woman, inhaling food enough to feed three men is splendor within itself. It challenges our society’s inclination to punish and judge people who eat too much, which is very well and alive in the feeder community, but the root of its popularity is very simple: People are lonely and want to eat with someone. In Asian cultures, it’s essential to eat with your family after work, but as more young people are living the single life a Mukbang BJ is an instant eating companion. Millennials are also not watching TV as much, and Mukbang videos are easily accessible on your smartphone.
Sometimes you need a bit of comedy and nostalgia in your life. We all can connect to what it’s like being a young person on a tight budget for food, and Elijah Quashie is the perfect host to take you back to a time when your high school friends were the best eating companions. Quashie is also known as “The Chicken Connoisseur” whose YouTube channel “The Pengest Munch” has acquired a large following. Quashie reviews fast food chicken shops in London, ordering the same three items that include, wings, fries, and a chicken sandwich. If the item is good, he’ll give it a “Peng” (great); if it’s bad he’ll say it’s “hench” or “dead.” Quashie himself has become quite the star, with his snappy critiques and Hip Hop-inspired London street slang. Donning fresh sneakers and a fitted suit, he’s gone viral educating everyone around the world about what is to be expected of a good London chicken shop.
If anyone remembers the Fear Factor show, audiences enjoyed watching people try “disgusting” food. The premise of some of the challenges was culturally insensitive, as they would use traditional food from other countries. On YouTube, there’s a new trend in watching children try foods from around the world. On Watchcut’s channel, American kids try international breakfasts, candy, and fine cuisine. Although kids have a more unfiltered response to the things they dislike, the novelty in this channel is the innocence of trying something for the first time. Taking offense to children disliking something would definitely be in the realm of oversensitivity, but it definitely shines a light on what has become the American palette. What we feed our children sets them on track on what they will like or dislike to eat for the rest of their lives. The cuteness factor in these videos is hard to overlook, as you’re witnessing a lot of these children taste an awesome dish for the first time. The joy on their faces when they discover that children in the Netherlands eat Hagelslag (bread with sprinkles) for breakfast is priceless as they’ve been raised in the U.S. where sugar is a treat. One kid noted that his friends would probably not be allowed to eat that for breakfast because of the amount of sugar it has. Another kid basically falls out of his seat with glee, when he finds out that in Japan they eat KFC and cake for Christmas. It’s also informative for us adults that have always been curious as to what people eat around the world.
Finding your way through food videos is also an introduction to an adventure. For those who cannot afford to travel, but want to, we travel through watching the tube. With so many travel shows to choose from, you can basically get a guide through any type of cuisine that you want in the world. “The Food Ranger” is one of the most popular travel food vlogs on YouTube. Its host, Trevor James, is a Canadian who studied Mandarin and decided to make Chengdu, China his home. His main focus is Asian and Southeast Asian street food, which would make a lot of delicate eaters quite queasy. You can’t turn your eyes away as he bites into the most succulent dumplings, buttered breads, and even lamb brain stew. His sense of adventure and enthusiasm toward everything he eats is so enticing you can’t help but want to join in. With over 450,000 subscribers, James acquires over twelve million views every month. James’ excitement to try everything on the street, intrigues even the squeamish of eaters. Even if we have certain limitations to that doesn’t allow us to experience the thrill for ourselves, watching YouTube hosts like James makes us feel like we are taking the risk with him.
The most polished of all of these YouTube food channels would be the VICE network’s MUNCHIES. Their channel opens viewers to a variety of chefs, cuisines, and countries. Their most unique program on the channel is their FUEL program, which shows what high performing athletes eat. From MMA star Kron Gracie and ballerina Theresa Farrell to professional rock climber Alex Honnold, you can get a glimpse of what a champion needs to eat in order to be the best in their sport. For the goal-oriented athlete, this program has an inspiring effect for those who can push themselves to the limit with the right diet.