China’s government has recently launched its “Clean Plate 2.0” campaign in order to reduce food waste. This may sound like a positive, eco-friendly initiative — unless you’re one of the cohort of internet stars known as mukbangers, who may now have to completely rethink their output.
Originating in Korea, mukbangs are displays of eating where people livestream themselves consuming massive portions of food. Now the trend has spread worldwide, with some stars gaining legions of devoted fans. China is no exception, with many mukbangers uploading their videos to Chinese social media apps such as Kuaishou and Douyin.
With this new mandate, however, these performers’ careers may be in jeopardy. Top governmental authorities are reportedly ramping up measures to reduce food waste, calling for all citizens to “maintain a sense of crisis on food security,” according to state media platform Global Times. The original “Clean Your Plate” campaign, which targeted official banquets and extravagant spending on food, was first launched in 2013.
Though the campaign does not officially mention mukbang, state media platforms have used it to criticize these “big stomach” livestreamers. In response to the campaign, China Central Television (CCTV) published an article saying that the content promotes indulgent eating habits and sets a bad example for their viewers.
The article also pointed to possible health risks that come with the genre. Mr. Wang, for instance, was a 30-year-old Chinese mukbanger that passed away from a sudden cerebral hemorrhage caused by excessive eating. He had gained 90 pounds in just six months of streaming.
Other mukbang streamers, meanwhile, prefer to just lie in order to keep making videos. Many have been called out for using fake dishes, spitting out food, and inducing vomiting in order to continue eating.
It’s not the first time that mukbang has been criticized for normalizing binge eating and unhealthy habits. Some go as far as to suggest that the genre promotes eating disorders.
As part of the new initiative, Chinese social media platforms have fallen in line to limit the influence of mukbangers and discourage food waste. For instance, on Douyin, when users search for relevant terms such as “big stomach king” (大胃王), they are instead greeted with the message “refuse waste and eat reasonably.”
The Chinese Association of Performing Arts took measures a step further by issuing a statement stating that it would “resolutely prohibit fake eating, vomiting, overeating, and other extravagant and wasteful live broadcasts.” As China actively tries to reduce food waste, livestreamers will clearly face tighter restrictions on content involving food consumption. But will that be enough to slow down China’s high-speed mukbang train?
Mukbang is an extremely popular form of entertainment; the term “chibo” (吃播) — literally “eat broadcast” — has been viewed 28.4 billion times on Douyin alone. It remains to be seen if the “Clean Plate” campaign is capable of slowing down such a trend.
Online, public opinion is divided over the issue. On Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, some users praise the move to discourage food waste and extravagant consumption. Others think it’s a step too far, an unnecessary crackdown on a genre of video they find relaxing and innocent.