In Korea, where a quarter of households are occupied by one person, live-streams of solo diners to thousands of people have become a hit among those who want a dinnertime companion – even if it’s through a computer screen.
“My fans tell me that they really love watching me eat because I do so with so much gusto and make everything look so delicious,” said Park Seo-Yeon, a 33-year-old meok-bang star who is known as “The Diva” to her fans.
Park, who quit her daytime job at a consultancy agency to focus on her nighttime feasts, claims that she makes over $9,300 a month. Afreeca TV, the social networking website that hosts the channel, allows users to buy virtual tokens called “star balloons” that can be sent to other users and converted into cash. A third of her income is spent on purchasing food for her show. Park can easily polish off four large pizzas or three kilograms of beef in just one broadcast.
For appearance-conscious South Korea, the broadcasts are an outlet for the weight conscious. Although Park’s impressive metabolism would seem likely to make her the envy of many, some of her biggest fans are, in fact, female.
“People enjoy the vicarious pleasure when they can’t eat this much or find that food at night or are on a diet,” Park Seo-yeon told Reuters before one of her scheduled shows.
Some attribute this recent online trend to the breakdown of old social ties. Research papers from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that one-person households are projected to increase from 25.3 percent of the total in 2012 to 32.7 percent in 2030. Koreans are also known to dislike eating by themselves.
“For Koreans, eating is an extremely social, communal activity, which is why even the Korean word ‘family’ means ‘those who eat together,’” said Professor Sung-hee Park of Ewha University’s Division of Media Studies.
Without a companion to enjoy dinner with, some find comfort in watching The Diva eat and answer questions from viewers.
“It feels as if I am the one eating that much,” said Park Sun-young, a 26-year-old fan of The Diva’s broadcasts. “It is comforting for people who eat alone.”