Friday, May 24, 2024

Dining in the Digital Era: Foodie Culture in Singaporean Live Streams

Fast forward to 10 years, Singapore might develop into a nation where people rely heavily on entertainment to pass time. It will be an era where people can freely access information online and tend to be lazy. This can be seen from the youths nowadays who are not keen on hawker food; instead, they are willing to pay extra to dine in air-conditioned restaurants. We cannot blame them, it is natural for humans to find something more comfortable and better. However, hawker food might be too cheap for its value. This might lead to a further deep decline of hawker centres.

Food is always an important part of Singaporean culture. This small, multi-ethnic place has been thought of as a paradise for food lovers. Each different ethnic group has developed its own unique variety of cuisine, and often the best place to sample food from one of the other cultures is in its original location. Dining is a key way to celebrate one’s culture and heritage, for food articulates the sense of being and belonging. However, Hawker Centres, which were designated as places that promote racial interaction and socialization through eating a variety of affordable local food cooked and prepared in front of you, have been declining because of funding and the lack of successors. Many legendary food stalls are forced to stop operating due to manpower problems and the difficulty to get the younger generation to take over the stall. It might be impossible to revert this trend, which might lead to a loss of local food culture.

The Rise of Live Streaming in Singapore

Using data from the Singapore Infocomm Development Authority, the percentage of people using social networks in 2008/9 in Singapore was at 36%. Going up to 47% in 2013, with the current statistic positioned at 49% in 2015, it is clear that as a society Singaporeans are becoming more connected to the internet and other internet users. Compared to many other nations, this is already an incredibly high percentage, and with many consumer technology trends originating from the Western world, Singapore finds itself ideally placed to capitalize on a trend that has yet to reach its fullest potential. 49% of Singaporeans inevitably have a large amount of their social interactions online and have friendships with people from an array of cultural backgrounds. Live streaming Singapore for food may be a way to be “foodies” as a part of multicultural friend groups, as they sample different foods and learnings from their respective cultures. This can also be enjoyed by family members at home in a similar fashion without the expense of going to a physical eatery.

From a primarily social aspect, the increase of live streams is a reflection of the ongoing globalization and interconnectedness of cultures worldwide. In the context of Singapore, this holds many aspects and, food being a significant part of any culture, is no exception. It was also found that participants with a higher personal incentive to use technology made a greater number of friends through SNS (social network sites).

Foodie Culture in Singaporean Live Streams

Foodie culture in Singapore has much to do with the promotion of a national identity. Singapore is deeply invested in its reputation as a culinary capital, and the local fusion of cuisines and frequent innovations on classic dishes create a food culture that is unique to the island with many immigrants and children of immigrants claiming a certain dish to be “Singaporean”. In attempting to capture the essence of Singapore’s food culture, local TV producer and former MediaCorp actor Moses Lim has started a series of mukbang live streams with friends; his goal was to record their candid conversations while eating “anyhow from anywhere”. While his videos are not within the format of a traditional mukbang—a Korean video genre that features people eating in front of a camera, often for hours on end—they succeed in their premise to celebrate Singaporean food and its social values. The foods in question are local favourites usually bought ‘tapau’ (take-out) from hawker centres and the many dining options are commonly categorized by the distance and time spent travelling to them; sentimentality and nostalgia are frequently strong when discussing food, evoking themes of identity, loss and social change. During one stream the conversation turned to the phenomenon of eating alone, the host cites it as a form of self-administered therapy during hard times and a mini-vacation from your troubles. And because really good food is best enjoyed with company, the spirits of those in hermitage are often lifted by the surprise of bumping into friends and making the most of the situation with an impromptu meal together. This was succinctly illustrated when Lim’s friend recounted a chance encounter with the stream host at a hawker centre and the subsequent savvy iPhone recording; potato quality it may be, the memory is group of friends laughing and enjoying each other’s company over a meal that will never be lost. Considering the inherent social nature of food and dining, the ability to communicate and preserve such experiences on media regardless of the production quality or duration justly reflects the spirit of the act. The topic closed with an agreement to have the said stream reenacted and properly filmed. Most fascinating however is that Moses Lim and his peers are less than concerned about audience; their videos are to be mostly private links sent among friends for a laugh. Social eating and discourse was the activity itself and being thrust unwillingly into the public eye would invariably change it for better or worse. A generation of digital natives or iGeneration who grew up with the internet and web 2.0 are inclined to document daily life and phenomena with video taking particular precedence as the defining media of this age—easy to produce, edit and view. His streams are an informal ethnography of modern life and culture through the medium of food and no less than gold for sociologists; speaking in Singlish and dealing with diverse topics it offers an unscripted look at language and the human interactions in a multiracial society, a 2009 stream featuring a hotpot session was particularly effective in demonstrating this. At the individual level, the act of recording provides a way to validate personal identity and food becomes a living bookmark for memories be they good or bad, food being of sensory nature is a potent mnemonic and the act of consuming it can revive past events. In the grander scheme of video availability and its potential informal archives however, one must consider the accuracy of the memories and culture being represented. This will be elaborated further down the page on issues of authenticity and preservation.

Impacts of Live Streaming on the Dining Experience

Live streaming Singapore of mukbang-themed shows featuring non-professional media producers has been declared by fans to be a new form of entertainment. Mukbang, a Korean term that combines the words for “eating” and “broadcast”, is an online audio-visual broadcast in which the host eats large quantities of food while interacting with their audience. This food-oriented broadcast has exploded in popularity not only in South Korea, but also among Asians worldwide. A mukbang broadcast may not always feature the consumption of large amounts of food, but the term mukbang has stuck and it is now commonly used to describe any broadcast in which the host eats food. While some have hailed mukbang broadcasts as therapeutic and a means to combat loneliness for individuals living on their own, others have criticized it as promoting gluttony and unhealthy eating habits. In this paper, we consider the impacts of mukbang-themed live streams on the dining experience.

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