Are mukbang eating videos relaxing or repulsive? For some South Floridians in the pandemic, they’re therapy

South Florida Sun Sentinel

Aug 06, 2021 11:45 AM

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Mukbang video creator Akaysha Parrish, talks about the therapeutic value of watching others eat on camera and what goes into creating the feast on film.

Slurp. Smack. Sip. That’s the slippery sound of two South Florida women crushing 17 pounds of chicken legs for thousands of YouTube viewers in one of their most popular mukbang videos.

For better or worse, the sights and sounds of people eating and drinking — mundane, but somehow mesmerizing — are searing the minds of South Florida mukbang viewers searching for a pandemic-era salve.

Mukbangs, a term that comes from two Korean words meaning “eating” and “broadcast,” are popular internet eating shows in which people stuff their faces with food, prompting polarized viewer reactions that range from “fun!” to “yuck.”

They’re the food equivalent of trendy ASMR videos — hypnotic and brain-pleasuring in a Bob Ross kind of way — but with a soundtrack of slurping, gulping and chewing noises that calls to mind Nathan’s Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest. Yes, mukbang videos can get pretty cringey.

They can also, weirdly, be therapeutic. South Florida’s mukbang creators and viewers say these videos, mostly on YouTube, are “calming,” “relaxing” and build community for local food enthusiasts during the pandemic.

The South Florida mukbang community includes Miami’s Queen Beast, who posts engaging eating videos with her husband and children, and extreme eater and personality Nikocado Avocado, of West Palm Beach. Each has more than 1 million YouTube subscribers.

Dozens of local food bloggers also occasionally double as mukbangers. You can see Miami resident David Hoffmann tear through multiple meals of Indian food in Sunrise on his YouTube account Davidsbeenhere, or watch mouth meet massive chocolate chip cookie with Miami Instagrammer @littlewomanbigstomach.

“You can only consume so much negative information before you just get burned out,” says one South Florida mukbang watcher, who asked to remain anonymous. “I turned instead to things like [mukbangs] for entertainment.”

Akaysha Parrish, of Sunrise, center, creates mukbangs for her YouTube audience of 4,000-plus subscribers. She is often joined by partner Nicole Liburd, left, and daughter Taseanna Williams.

Akaysha Parrish, of Sunrise, center, creates mukbangs for her YouTube audience of 4,000-plus subscribers. She is often joined by partner Nicole Liburd, left, and daughter Taseanna Williams. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

On one of Akaysha Parrish’s most popular mukbang videos, the Sunrise resident and her partner, Nicole Liburd, eagerly stare down a platter of 40 baked and fried chicken legs. They spend the next 30 minutes tearing, dipping and smacking through 17 pounds of chicken. That’s until Parrish, too stuffed to go on, declares she has given up after four-and-a-half legs. Liburd ate five.

Some viewers may find the loud chewing in Parrish’s videos off-putting, but most of her 4,000-plus YouTube subscribers stay for the camaraderie. The comments are overwhelmingly positive.

“I was eating whilst watching this, I felt like I was on the other side of the table with you!” one commenter wrote.

Parrish decided to make mukbangs in 2019 after enjoying the sense of calm she felt from watching similar videos. She says her YouTube channel, “Munching with KAY,” has been therapeutic for her audience and herself, especially as people have stayed home more during the pandemic.

“They’ll tell me, ‘Oh, your food looks delicious. I want some of that tonight.’ But they really get into the conversation, and respond to the things I’m saying,” Parrish says.

Parrish, a self-proclaimed introvert and homebody, says her 20-minute videos let her sound off to a network of online friends. Parrish, alongside Nicole or Taseanna Williams, Parrish’s daughter, talk about how the food tastes, but also about the ups and downs of life.

Especially now, during the pandemic, viewers eat vicariously through Parrish’s massive feasts. Her food hauls — which have included crab legs and shrimp, or a seafood boil that might run more than $100 — are an expensive indulgence for some, Parrish says. Others are trying to eat healthier and watch Parrish’s videos to curb their cravings.

Akaysha Parrish, of Sunrise, prepares to record a mukbang with rotisserie chicken, white rice and shrimp for her 4,000-plus Youtube subscribers.

Akaysha Parrish, of Sunrise, prepares to record a mukbang with rotisserie chicken, white rice and shrimp for her 4,000-plus Youtube subscribers. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Some viewers say the shows look downright repulsive. Ashley King, of Deerfield Beach, finds the eating videos to be “absolutely disgusting” and “almost vomit-worthy.”

King was first exposed to mukbangs on Instagram while searching through seafood videos. After watching a few, she grew horrified by how quickly mukbang creators downed their food. King says the practice resembles binge eating.

“I find it very strange that folks actually enjoy hearing the sounds of chewing and slurping intensified through … special ASMR microphones,” King says. (ASMR is an acronym for “autonomous sensory meridian response.”)

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Parrish, for her part, says she portions her food so that she doesn’t eat the eyebrow-raising amounts that other mukbangers might devour.

Mukbanger Akaysha Parrish, center, is often joined by partner Nicole Liburd, left, and daughter Taseanna Williams during recordings for her YouTube channel.

Mukbanger Akaysha Parrish, center, is often joined by partner Nicole Liburd, left, and daughter Taseanna Williams during recordings for her YouTube channel. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Fort Lauderdale resident Jodi Briganti served as a caterer for more than 20 years, so she wasn’t fazed by the smorgasbord of food shown in mukbangs. She grew fascinated with re-creating the recipes of her favorite mukbangers Tae and Lou, a YouTube channel with 1.4 million subscribers.

After Briganti’s dreams of opening her own restaurant dried up in the pandemic, she missed being in the hospitality industry. Mukbangs, she says, are her way of staying plugged into the local food scene.

“The videos help me fulfill what I miss: seeing people happy and satisfied by food they love,” she says.

During the pandemic, she’s made Tae and Lou’s signature spicy garlic butter dipping sauce at home, pairing it with her keto diet.

“It was so weird at first,” she says. “I think if you watch certain people doing different [videos], then you get to know their personality, and it becomes fun.”

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