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'Mukbang' binge-eating shows give way to new trend of eating little

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TV celebrity Park So-hyun in a scene from the YouTube channel,
TV celebrity Park So-hyun in a scene from the YouTube channel, "Unnies without Appetite" / Screenshot from YouTube

By Kwak Yeon-soo

"Mukbang" shows, in which people livestream themselves consuming a large quantity of food, have risen in popularity over the past few years. As this trend swept the globe, the Korean term for binge-eating shows was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2021.

It's no wonder that the excessive eating trend first emerged in Korea, a country where people believe biting off noodles while slurping, or picking at one's food, bring bad luck. However, eating excessive amounts has also drawn sharp criticism from those who argue that it poses health risks and creates too much food waste.

Viewers, who have grown tired of the extreme eating trend, are steadily turning away from "mukbang" videos and instead finding solace in watching clips of "sosikjwa" or people who have less desire to eat and consume only small amounts of food. A portmanteau of "sosik," which translates to eating a small quantity of food, and the suffix, "jwa," which means "king," "sosikjwa" refers to "the king of eating small meals."

Celebrities, who have been criticized for "eating like a bird," have started to speak out against thin-shaming and to share their eating habits.

"Sosik" is different from other food-related content, as "sosikjwa" are not restrained eaters who want to lose weight. The reason behind their minimalist eating is simply due to their preference.

"Unnies without Appetite," a YouTube channel starring former girl group 2NE1 member Sandara Park and TV personality Park So-hyun, went viral since its launch in mid-July. Each episode has surpassed one million views.

In the show, Park, 51, claims she can drink two vanilla lattes per day and eat almost nothing else. The K-pop singer says she can survive on one banana a day. While some may roll their eyes at their bizarre eating habits, the two choose to turn their backs to peer pressure and follow their hearts.

"Everyone is interested in eating well and living well. What's important in 'mukbang' is not to eat large amounts of food, but to eat to one's satisfaction. That's the whole purpose of this program ― to show that sosikjwa also enjoy food," the show's producer, Shim Cheong, said.

Comedian Ahn Young-mi in a scene from YouTube channel
Comedian Ahn Young-mi in a scene from YouTube channel "Celeb Five official" / Screenshot from YouTube

In another reality show, "Omniscient Interfering View," comedian Ahn Young-mi said it takes her three to four days to eat one fried chicken. On average, she chews each bite of food for two minutes. Music producer Code Kunst and actor Joo Woo-jae also rose to fame after revealing their abstemious eating habits.

Culture critic Ha Jae-keun said the increasing popularity of "sosikjwa" derives from experiencing emotional fatigue from watching "mukbang" videos. "People are tired of watching mukbang videos where people gobble up food as if they are in an eating contest. Those who feel uncomfortable about it are turning their attention toward sosikjwa," he said.

Fans of "sosikjwa" believe it's wrong to make assumptions about someone because of their eating style or outward appearance.

"Lately, my attention has been drawn to overeating and food waste, which pose a threat to the environment. I want to see more diet-related content that shows reducing food portions and promoting healthy eating habits," said Lee Ji-yoon, who subscribes to the "Unnies without Appetite" channel.

Another viewer surnamed Ju said, "As a person who eats less than others, I've gotten a lot of nosy comments such as, 'Why do you eat so little?' as if there's something wrong with me. I'm perfectly healthy. I'm glad that diverse diet-related content is gaining attention and that society is embracing the fact that food portions can vary among individuals."

Lim Myung-ho, a professor of psychology at Dankook University, said the younger generation is more environmentally conscious compared to the older generation.

"People prioritize their health over food cravings. Healthy eating and portion control are essential for maintaining optimal health," he said.

Kwak Yeon-soo


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