Common etiquette suggests it's rude to watch strangers eat their meal while out at a restaurant. But a growing online trend offers a reprieve for gastronomical voyeurs.
Twitch, the live streaming platform typically associated with video games, launched a "social eating" channel this month, where people can watch and interact with people as they eat.
It's part of Twitch's growing creative channel, which includes live demonstrations of painting, drawing and costuming.
The social eating trend first gained notoriety in South Korea, where it's become known as muk-bang, or literally "eating broadcast."
The most popular muk-bang streamers crack into piles food totalling thousands of calories, chatting with and answering questions from fans. Many of them, including a woman known as The Diva, can be found on Korea's YouTube-like platform Afreeca, but archives can be found on YouTube, some with millions of views.
North Americans are no stranger to food porn on YouTube, of course. Websites like Buzzfeed and other solo streamers attract thousands of views when posting clips of people devouring trendy fast food like Taco Bell's Doritos Tacos and Burger King's Mac and Cheetos.
'Like going out to a restaurant with your friends'
So far, Twitch streams on the social eating channel are considerably more relaxed. Streamers casually eat meals such as hot dogs or nachos while playing video games or listening to music.
In most cases, they aren't mimicking the gargantuan meals of muk-bang veterans, nor are they sampling the weirdest new fast food trends. For Twitch, the "social" half of the label is as important as the "eating" half.
"Its main purpose is to enjoy food in a social setting, much like going out to a restaurant with your friends, providing interactive entertainment around mealtimes for anyone watching," according to Twitch's social eating FAQ page.
"The appeal may be in companionship, albeit remote companionship over the internet," the BBC said in a 2015 report on muk-bang. "It feels like a dinner party where the diners are talking from different rooms."
Primarily a gaming-centric streaming site, Twitch launched its creative channels in 2015 with a weeks-long broadcast of every episode of Bob Ross's The Joy of Painting. It attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers. It also recently ran a 24-hour marathon of Julia Child's The French Chef.
While these older shows generated much of the initial attention for Twitch creative, the space appears focused on individual creators streaming their own artistic pursuits.
Twitch streamers already have a food sub-channel on creative, but the social eating category was added for those who want to eat food online instead of — or in addition to — preparing the food themselves.
Binge drinking, eating pet food banned
Streamers won't be able to eat or drink anything without regulations, however. Twitch released multiple rules outlining unacceptable behaviour, including:
- Primarily drinking alcoholic beverages, such as taking shots, drinking games, binge drinking or drinking parties.
- Eating items or food not meant for human consumption, such as pet food, toxic substances, bodily fluids, refuse or inedible objects.
- Food challenges or contests, such as chugging, snorting or binge/speed eating.
- Food challenges or contests involving the exchange of money, goods or services, such as eating or shots, for dares or for money.
- Feeding others, such as pets or babies.