A new trend in China centers on eating vicariously through other people on the internet.

By Tim Nelson
April 16, 2019
Barcroft Media/Getty Images

Dieting is tough. I’ve never made a serious go of it, mainly because missing out on the joy of eating some of my favorite foods is hard to stomach. But with many people adopting keto diets or other restrictive ways of eating, how are we supposed to get “healthier” without driving ourselves insane with food FOMO?

A bunch of people in China with an internet connection, an entrepreneurial spirit, and an appetite have come up with an ingenious (if weird) solution: you can pay to watch them eat. For the cost of the price of a food item and a small “service fee,” someone will eat the fast food burger, bubble tea, or other guilty pleasure that may be off-limits in your current nutritional plan.

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According to the South China Morning Post, the posts offering vicarious eating services have cropped up recently on Chinese ecommerce sites like Taobao, a subsidiary of Alibaba. The ads themselves frame the service as a way to experience some form of eating tasty food without the attendant health risks.

“I will honestly eat and drink on your behalf! I will help you eat whatever you want,” one social media post by a surrogate eater says. “Don’t worry about getting fat, diabetes, high cholesterol, high pressure—I will take all the risks for you!”  

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time eating vicariously through someone else online has taken off. The South Korean trend of mukbang first surfaced in 2016, with eaters broadcasting big, decadent meals to an online audience. It seems equally as odd from this side of the Pacific, but mukbang helped some South Korean YouTubers rake in thousands of dollars a month from their hungry, fawning fans.

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But the one-to-one nature of this Chinese take on the trend is new, and seems to focus explicitly on letting the paying viewer live out the fantasy of eating the foods they’ve chosen to deny themselves. Though the Post wasn’t able to talk to anyone who’d ordered such a video, you have to wonder whether the strategy works. Does watching someone eat what you can’t scratch an itch without derailing your diet? Or does it just inspires further hunger pangs and feelings of deprivation that make you long for a cheat day?

We may never really know, since there are already signs that the brief trend in surrogate internet eating is on the downswing. The Post says listings for such services aren’t quite as prevalent as they were in weeks past. The whole idea has already been the subject of parodies, with some jokesters selling personalized videos of them hanging out with their pets. Now that I would pay for.

 

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