Mukbang: is loneliness behind the madness of watching other people eat? | Food

We already see other people watching TV, but now our appetite for the mundane seems to have extended to watching other people eat. The growing popularity of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) videos, in which people listen to pleasant noises that act as a sedative (such as the sound of someone eating raw cauliflower) and “mukbang,” a combination of muok-da (the Korean word for eating) with bang song (Korean for broadcast) – have seen millions tune in to YouTube videos to watch people eat. But are these online food communities just another short-lived fad, or could they have broader implications for the way we socialize?

While eating a meal has traditionally been a communal affair, eating alone is becoming more and more common as the number of single-person households grows. The government predicts that the number of single occupant homes will reach 1.7 million in England by 2039. Is the mukbang a symptom of our growing loneliness? “Loneliness is such a personal experience, so it’s hard to say either way,” says Alice Stride, a spokeswoman for the Campaign to End Loneliness. “It can bring someone great comfort to watch someone else prepare a meal and eat it, especially if she has lived alone for a long time.”

Eating alone in restaurants is also becoming more socially acceptable. According to the online reservation service Bookatable, single-table reservations have increased by 38% since 2014. Not everyone thinks this is a bad thing. A plethora of foodie bloggers can be found getting lyrical about the joys of eating alone, invariably stating that dining alone means you focus on your food rather than your dining partner.

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A recent report by the Royal Voluntary Service charity found that one in five people over the age of 70 eat most meals alone. Stride adds that she would be concerned if young people were watching people eat instead of eating with friends or family, but she acknowledges that for older people, television can be a great source of comfort. Adds Stride: “If you can’t go out, if you’re sick, for example, maybe that gives you a great sense of comfort. In general, however, we would recommend face-to-face contact, but we recognize that this has nuances; it’s not really one or the other.”

Self-confidence expert and relationship coach Ben Edwards is less concerned with the potential implications of the trend. “I would always encourage people to do whatever makes them feel better, as long as it’s a healthy habit,” Edwards says. “Obviously I would encourage people to be social, but I think if people feel like watching other people prepare and eat, and it gives them some kind of satisfaction, I don’t see any harm.”

For more help and advice on dealing with loneliness, contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or visit

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