Twitch Streamers Are Eating and Throwing Up on the Air
New streaming channel models itself off of South Korea's popular mukbang videos.
When the video game streaming website Twitch created a new channel called "Social Eating" last week, it was banking on the success of mukbang, a South Korean phenomenon in which people by the millions watch other people eat huge quantities of food. There's apparently nothing outwardly disgusting about it over there aside from an overemphasis on the sounds of chewing and sipping—it's just eating, really. Some say it helps lonely Koreans feel as though they're having a meal with a friend, while others say it helps people on diets enjoy rich, delicious foods vicariously. It's beautiful to think of, in a way, and it's not even entirely foreign to our shores. One mukbang video of American Trisha Paytas eating chicken from KFC already has well over a million views since it was posted last February. But leave it to us as westerners to fuck up such an innocuous idea.
The very first YouTube video I came across from Twitch's new channel was the one below, which shows some dude spewing a stream of spew almost straight at the camera. (Seriously, if you have a weak stomach, don't watch it. My eyes were watering from holding my own stomach in check for around 10 minutes.) I spent 30 minutes watching whereiswaldoalejandro stuffing whatever his audience told him to stick into a bowl to the sounds of Obituary's "Chopped in Half." He eventually barfed in the bowl and looked close to fainting, all for a mere 12 viewers. Rumors claim some guy ate poop on the channel, but I've yet to see any existing proof of it.
WARNING: BARF IS GROSS AND IT'S IN THIS VIDEO.
Not surprisingly, Twitch has already posted an FAQ detailing what you can and cannot do on the channel. The "can dos" are fairly predictable—you have to interact with your viewers and show both yourself and the food while you're broadcasting. It's the "can'ts" that speak of the horrors Twitch thinks its user base is capable of, whether it's eating "items or food not meant for human consumption, such as pet food, toxic substances, bodily fluids, refuse, or inedible objects" or "Eating food or in a manner intended to disgust, shock, or offend others."
You're not allowed to show yourself drinking mainly alcohol, and in a riff on the stereotypes associated with the gaming crowd, you can't eat mainly "junk food, such as candy, condiments, or energy food." You also can't partake in "food challenges or contests involving the exchange of money, goods, or services" but as I noticed during a couple of streams, that isn't stopping viewers from sending in small donations to the exhibitionist munchers.
Most of the time it's just boring. Worse yet, it's sad. In the video above, take popular Swedish Twitch streamer Forsenlol, who's using the channel to interact with his audience while he munches on a wrap of some sort in front of his computer. It's a fun stream, but watching him sit there reminds me a touch too much of my own life, taking my meals at my computer because I have little time to enjoy them away from them. And if I feel that way about Forsenlol, imagine how I feel watching the aptly named "OverweightGamer" streaming his meal of "rice and beans and chicken that purtorican food." It's enough to make me want to burst outside and run far away from all this until the pounds fall off.
In short the Social Eating channel has a ways to go, to put it lightly. At the time of writing, I can find only 14 streams active in the channel, and many of those have viewers numbering in the single digits. Among the busiest is spoonpai's "Let's take that melon down tonight," but I can't watch him scoop his way into the fruit for more than 15 seconds at a time before wanting to barf a bit myself.
As mentioned above, a common theme in commentaries on the Korean version of mukbang is that many viewers may enjoy it because they're on diets that don't allow themselves to partake in the kind of binges the broadcasters do. But in the west and the United States and the gaming community in particular—and thus on Twitch—that kind of excess of is nothing too out of the ordinary. Perhaps that's why it's been slow to catch on here.
Rather than offering a glimpse of the way things could be, Twitch's Social Eating channel acts as more of a mirror. And more often than not, we won't like what we see.