As any chef will tell you, we eat with our eyes, so for people who make a living by eating on social media, presenting their food is key to their success.
Korean influencer Sna, known as a.bite, has garnered fans from all over the world for the way she presents and eats well-arranged plates of food.
And her more than six million followers on TikTok alone tune in almost daily to watch her munch and nibble as she makes her way through the huge plates.
“I started posting on TikTok over two and a half years ago,” he says.
“And I’ve created and eaten 270 videos of a dish in the past year and a half.”
Sna is part of a growing number of stars riding two massive internet trends called Mukbang and ASMR:
- Mukbang is originally from Korea and loosely translates as “eating broadcast”
- Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a category of video aimed at creating noises and sounds that elicit a physical response
For some, the idea of watching and hearing someone eat piles of food in front of the camera isn’t appealing.
But the trend, which started around 10 years ago, has become extremely popular in Asia.
Now, however, the Chinese government is cracking down on videos, which could soon be banned altogether in the country.
The “Clean Plate” campaign
It all started with a comment by President Xi Jinping, who called on everyone to “fight against food waste”.
Food shortages are a growing concern for China, with the continuing trade war with the United States and mass floods affecting crop growth last month.
The “Clean Plate” campaign was launched after Xi also claimed that Covid-19 had “sounded the alarm” on food waste.
He added that China had to “maintain a sense of crisis regarding food security”.
And the state media channels quickly took action.
The CCTV news network has released critical reports on the mukbangers, drawing attention to those who ate mountains of food during the live stream.
And, soon after, social media companies stepped in.
Anyone looking for terms like “gastronomic show” or “live streaming” receives warning notices.
Users of the popular Kuaishou app are warned to “save food; eat right” and on Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister app, a warning is displayed that says, “Take care of food, refuse to waste, eat right and have a healthy life”.
Meanwhile, the mukbang Mini star unveiled a promotional video in the state-run Guangming Daily, urging people not to waste food.
In one of his commercials, he says: “Even reheated dishes can be super tasty.”
But none of these warnings appear to appear on Chinese apps operating outside of China, such as TikTok.
BBC China media analyst Kerry Allen says, “Social media platforms in China have long been concerned about having content on their platforms that is seen as contrary to what the state considers good moral behavior.
“Live streaming and vlogging have become increasingly popular.
“But because the state is particularly nervous about the new freedoms this medium offers, many vloggers have struggled to find a niche, thanks to the strict rules on live streaming outdoors or appearing to be seductive.
“So the influencers just ended up singing along to the songs or eating.”
But now some of China’s most successful mukbang stars, the “big stomach kings” who eat as much food on screen as possible, are blurring their videos on Chinese platforms to discourage viewers.
“Users have started manually removing the videos they eat,” says Ms. Allen.
“But even then, they still risk being shamed online as their previous videos could be saved by others.
“Social media users have taken the opportunity to start naming and shaming those who were once part of that niche that has overnight been dubbed ‘wasteful’ and ‘vulgar’.”
Most of Sna’s followers are in Korea, Vietnam and Thailand.
But she is concerned about her 50,000 Chinese fans, many of whom are thought to be lonely people looking for a shared experience when dining in front of their phones or computers.
“I hope that only the worst channels will be affected to allow the good and good channels to stay open,” he says.
“I don’t eat much in my videos and I try to eat healthy foods.”