Chinese short-video platforms are now regulating online eating shows and are cracking down on so-called “big stomach kings” after criticism from Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on Wednesday for misleading consumption and encouraging food waste.
Bilibili has launched a #CleanPlateCampaign encouraging users to record and share their clean plates. When searching keywords such as “eating show” or “big stomach king” users will see a pinned post that reads “value food and eat reasonable amounts.” Furthermore, the platform said it will punish live streamers who feature food waste in their videos. Other video platforms like Douyin and Kuaishou have also taken similar actions.
Eating shows, or mukbang in Korean, originated in South Korea and have since become a worldwide trend. Those who make such videos are usually quite slim and quickly consume a large amount of food. After a video of a Chinese broadcaster named Mi Zijun eating 10 cups of hot chicken flavor ramen in 17 minutes went viral in 2016, competitive eating shows have been quite popular in China. Now, Mi Zijun has more than 18 million followers on Weibo, and reportedly earned 7 million yuan ($1.01 million) in 2018.
However, some attention-seekers have been faking the activity. They pretend to eat large quantities of food in front of the camera but then spit it out immediately and edit out the footage in an effort to fool viewers. Sun Dog and Liu Tiger, a food vlogger who had 37,000 followers on Bilibili, accidentally posted an unedited video in May in which he faked eating. The video soon caused heated discussions on social media. Bilibili has deleted the account.
Zhuang Lingjia, 25, is a big mukbang lover. Zhuang said eating shows served as a placebo for her especially on nights when she was dieting.
“It’s like sending signals to my brain as if I was eating those delicious food as well,” Zhuang said. “Watching eating shows also relieves my stress and improves my mood. I feel happy seeing them enjoying food.”
Though she has stopped dieting, Zhuang sometimes still watches eating shows. However, she feels “uncomfortable” watching big stomach eaters. She also noticed that some “big stomach kings” like Mi Zijun have shifted from competitive eating to exploring iconic foods in different regions.
The scrutiny comes after a call by President Xi on Tuesday to end the country’s “shocking and distressing” food waste problem as floods and the coronavirus pandemic have threatened the country’s food supply. According to a joint report released by the WWF and Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2018, restaurants and canteens in China waste about 18 million tonnes of food per year, equivalent to around 3% of the country’s total food production. The report said this level of waste would be enough to feed up to 50 million people.
Following the President’s appeal, China has launched a “Clean Plate Campaign” to target food waste. At least 27 provinces have announced proposals for reducing food waste. Cities like Wuhan have even come up with an “N-1” system wherein people must order one dish less than the number of diners at the table. For example, a group of 10 people are only permitted to order nine dishes. But in the country’s culture where it’s seen as polite to order more than the necessary amount, it may take some time for citizens to get used to the new regulations. Netizens even joked “One person can no longer dine out.”
“Weighing diners to determine how much food they should order, setting maximum order limits for 10 people, these are all formalistic practices that won’t achieve the goal of saving food,” Zhu Lijia, a professor at Chinese Academy of Governance, said in a recent interview with Jiemian News. “The country will guarantee food security through various measures such as farmland protection and technological development. Restaurants should just give proper guidance, such as encouraging customers to take away leftovers.”