China’s online eating shows under scrutiny after state media criticism of food waste
- Eating shows originated from South Korea before gaining popularity globally via videos featuring broadcasters consuming a large quantity of food
- In a Weibo poll, more than 50 per cent of roughly 155,000 respondents said that while they enjoyed watching eating shows they would say ‘no’ to food waste
Popular Chinese video platforms are taking steps to regulate online eating shows after they were criticised by state media following an earlier call by China’s President Xi Jinping to end food waste.
Now if users search certain keywords such as “eating show” or “competitive eaters” on short video platforms Douyin and Kuaishou, a cautionary message pops up above the search results
“Please cherish food, and keep a reasonable diet,” Kuaishou’s notice reads. Douyin’s message asks people to say “no” to food waste.
Are China’s online eating shows under threat?
On Wednesday Chinese state broadcaster CCTV criticised online eating programmes that show participants consuming an excessive volume of food, and even spitting out the food after eating, describing them as “an extreme example of food waste”.
Eating shows, also known as mukbang, originated from South Korea before gaining popularity globally via videos featuring broadcasters consuming a large quantity of food.
The scrutiny comes amid a call by Xi on Tuesday to end the country’s “shocking and distressing” problem of food waste amid a challenging economic environment.
In response to the criticism, Chinese video platforms were quick to clean up the offending videos. “The platform will penalise food-wasting behaviour when spotted. We call on our users to treasure food,” a representative from Douyin said in a statement.
Kuaishou declined to comment when reached by the Post.
Live-streaming site Douyu told Chinese media that it would actively heed the call by Beijing and step up content reviews of food-related live streams. In a separate statement to the Post, Douyu said it focused on games and that eating shows were not a major part of its platform.
In a poll conducted on social media site Weibo on Thursday, more than 50 per cent of roughly 155,000 respondents said that while they enjoyed watching eating shows or food review programmes they would say “no” to food waste. However, some disagreed with the intervention by the platforms.
“Why do people care about how much others eat as long as they don’t throw away their food,” one of the most upvoted comments under the poll read. “Grain rationing is outdated – those people didn’t spend your social justice warriors’ money to buy food.”
Since last year, the Chinese leadership has repeatedly stressed the importance of food security and assured the public the nation is producing enough to feed its 1.4 billion people. This year, floods ravaged China’s traditional rice production and the coronavirus pandemic disrupted food supply.
Xi said that despite several years of bumper harvests the country needed to “maintain a sense of crisis about food security, especially amid the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic”, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Some cities responded to the call by offering smaller portions of food for diners. The Wuhan Catering Association – in the central Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged – responded on Wednesday with an “N-1” ordering mode for restaurants in which a group of 10 diners only orders enough for nine people. More food is only brought to the table if required. It is common in China for all dishes to be shared by the entire table.
Additional reporting by Tracy Qu