World ASMR Day made us explore the connection between sensory food videos and loneliness in a pandemic-ridden world
Being locked down is making the online Indian society a lonelier and hungrier community. Not only has this made food trends on TikTok popular, but ASMR videos, too.
It was early 2020 when I tried watching ASMR videos. I'd been exploring YouTube and Twitch and had discovered I enjoyed different comedy groups and even gamer content, so what was the harm in trying out another category of YouTube videos? But while I watched a girl biting into sashimi with distaste, I realised I didn't understand the appeal. Was it just a matter of preference?
The short answer is, yes. If you're looking for a longer answer: like most of the world, your ability to feel an Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (or ASMR) is a matter of where you lie on a spectrum of sensitivity. Some people feel pleasant or ticklish sensations in response to auditory, visual, or physical stimuli and some, just don't. While ASMR has not benefited from much scientific research as yet (apart from a mere ten peer-reviewed author-paid journal studies), the fact that #ASMR has been used over five million times on Instagram, points towards its popularity. Back in 2016, global food pages like Tastemade even saw millions of views on single videos like, a lemon carpaccio salad, because of the ASMR nature of the video. So, while yours truly doesn't land on the spectrum of those who feel the 'tingles' (as they're dubbed by the ASMR community), there's a sizable population out there that does.
The closest we can come to attributing a scientific meaning to this love for ASMR is synesthesia, which is the name for when one experiences something with one sense, and it leads to an involuntary reaction from another, different sense. For example, it's what happens when you hear nails scratch on a chalkboard and goosebumps rise on your skin.
During India's national lockdown, Google Search Trends reported an average of 84 search queries about "ASMR" or "ASMR food" per week in March and April 2020. Could it be others who explored out of sheer curiosity, or was it a desperate attempt to find a note of calm through ASMR?
This isn't as far-fetched as it sounds - the University of Sheffield even published a study in 2018 about the connection between ASMR and health benefits, which found subjects to have more relaxed temperaments post-experiencing ASMR. They also reported anecdotal evidence of it helping with anxiety and PTSD.
ASMR and bonding behaviours in interpersonal relationships share similar triggers like gentle touches and soft voices between individuals that trust each other, which usually leads to feeling comforted, relaxed and secure. Food ASMR videos take this intimate and gentle communication forward by another step - they're usually depicting one person eating or handling food, which helps forge a greater feeling of sharing. It allows you to be a part of the experience. A feeling that's increasingly rare in a socially distanced world.
Food videos in this genre range from recipe reading, to extreme crunching, chewing, cooking, mukbangs, and even vegan cuisine (don't ask me about that last one). All of them, whether whispered conversations over endless buffets, or bites of fried onion rings, serve to satisfy a craving for not just food, but sharing a comfortable moment with another person over a common interest. And as India moves back into lockdown with rising COVID cases once more, it looks like 2021 is bringing back a boost in ASMR, because Google Trends reports a similar increase in search interest per week, mirroring the trend from a year ago. It's time for the online community to seek out their connections again, and ASMR food content seems to be the first step.
Are you looking to satisfy a craving? Here are four places to start:
SAS-ASMR, a YouTuber with over nine million subscribers, uploads ASMR food videos ranging from eating octopus sushi to TikTok's viral feta cheese pasta. She's also got a killer make-up game.
Food Shood with Bijan, a young Indian influencer hailing from Bihar with 434 thousand subscribers, dabbles in mukbangs and conversations along with ASMR food videos. He's accompanied by his mother frequently, so check his videos out for a taste of a quiet family dinner.
Apei Eats may have only 69 thousand subscribers, but this member of the Tangkhul Naga tribe from Manipur excels in mukbang and ASMR content that brings to life Indian Northeastern cuisine.
N.E Let's Eat is your next stop if you're looking for that family connection again. With their three million subscribers, the family enjoys food the best way one can - quietly.