Chinese Eating shows to face harsher censorship in bid to prevent food waste
Feature image: An eating show host with approximately one million followers can earn roughly 300,000 RMB (£33,000) by eating enough food to feed 50 people. (Source: Douyin)
*Warning: this article includes content that people with eating disorders may find triggering.
Eating show bloggers on Chinese social media might risk having videos deleted and accounts closed or being banned from live streaming if their content is found to encourage binge eating or other unhealthy diets, according to several Chinese video-sharing social networking services including Kuaishou, Douyu and Douyin - the Chinese version of TikTok owned by Bytedance.
Eating shows, also known as Muckbang originate from Korea and have become one of the most popular live show genres across Chinese video-sharing platforms since 2016.
Hosts grow their followers by posting videos showing themselves eating extremely spicy and strange food, as well as themselves participating in food challenges such as having large proportions of high-calorie and high-carbohydrate food within short time periods.
The show mainly attracts a female audience aged between 20 to 40 years old who would never dream of eating in such a manner themselves out of fear of gaining weight.
Popular bloggers can then attract the eyes of sponsors who are willing to pay them for advertising their food or eating at their restaurants on their live shows as a way to publicise their businesses.
One of the most popular creators of this kind on Douyin - Mizijun, has so far garnered more than 8.4M followers since a video she posted in 2016 which showed her finishing 10 bowls of spicy instant noodles within just 17 minutes. That video scooped her 1.7M likes.
Her best performing post was when she had 1,000 spicy crayfishes at a cost of 2,400 RMB (£263) which was liked by over 2M viewers.
The video on her Douyin account was deleted two days after the warning from the platform and more than 100 of her previous eating show videos were taken down.
Cautionary message saying, “Treasure food, say no to food waste, have a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle” can be seen when users search the service for hashtags such as “Big Stomach King”. It also appears in the caption of some individual eating show posts. Searching results of such hashtags are replaced with videos denouncing food waste, instead of original eating shows.
Cautionary message can be seen when users search the service for hashtags such as “Big Stomach King”. (Source: Douyin)
Live eating shows that require nothing more than a big appetite while easily attracting traffic and bringing high incomes for creators tend to quickly go viral on Chinese social media, with more good-looking and skinny "foodies" joining the trend.
The Beijing News once revealed that one eating show host can earn nearly 800,000 RMB (£88,045) over a period of two years. According to the China Consumer Journal, an eating show host with approximately one million followers can earn roughly 300,000 RMB (£33,000) by eating enough food to feed 50 people.
While more and more people are tuning into eating shows, some viewers are becoming sceptical about the authenticity of these videos. Criticism of eating show hosts wasting food by binging and then vomiting has become a hot topic on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter-like micro-blogging site, which has attracted the attention of Chinese officials.
Spokespersons for platforms, including Kuaishou, Douyu and Douyin, where this kind of content is mostly live-streamed all state that "food waste is strictly forbidden on our platforms and we are actively involved to guide healthy food consumption".
Meanwhile, they also warn that content involving binge-eating, encouraging extreme eating, and fake eating and vomiting after eating could result in content being deleted, the banning of live streaming and accounts being closed permanently.
Searching results of the hashtag of “Big Stomach King” are videos criticising food waste from media. (Source: Douyin)
A statement published by the China Association of Performing Arts - a non-profit organisation consisting of art groups and individual artists, quoting words from the Chinese President Xi Jinping, says, "the occurrence of wasting food is horrifying and distressing".
It also calls on member institutions to strengthen the censorship of this kind of content, especially, on live streams related to food and to guide the public to develop a healthy diet.
The opinions of Weibo users are divided. While some say these videos help them control their intake and lose weight, others argue this practice is cheating and misleading to the public.
Some users are being more sympathetic, saying it is meaningless trying to make big money at such a cost to a person’s health. There are also users who question the tighter rules on eating shows, claiming them to be an overreaction and cautioning against the consequences of radical action.
Clinical experts have also raised concerns that watching eating shows where large amounts of food is consumed could be a trigger for people who have eating disorders or who may be susceptible to developing one.
It is advised that anyone intending to produce this type of content should pre-warn viewers of the matter, and anyone with an eating disorder ought to approach this kind of content with extreme caution.
In the UK, you can find support and advice for eating disorders through the following organisations:
Anorexia and Bulimia Care https://www.anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk/
Overeaters Anonymous: https://www.oagb.org.uk/
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