I never thought that this was what my life would be. But I deserve it. Every bad decision I made led me to this point. I have always enjoyed a challenge, winning every game I played. But somewhere down the line, this game changed.
It started when a friend of mine wanted to film something – anything – to practice his camera skills. I had recently followed that rabbit hole into an unnamed video-viewing site's more odd uploads and had been indulging in mukbang videos. It’s supposed to be about the sound that the food makes, I think some people might find it calming but I found it amazing that these people could eat so much in one sitting. I know that these can be fetish videos but I wanted to try. I love food and my metabolism let’s me savor whatever I want. I thought it could be a fun way to pass my empty time.
My friend was in. He got me the food and we found a quiet place in a nearby recording studio. Had to pay extra to bring the food in but he didn’t care.
It started with things like chicken wings smothered in buffalo sauce or chili cheese fries drenched in ranch. It took a few tries for me to realize that I couldn’t just down the food as I normally would. I needed to, as he put it, put on a show. It wasn’t just about the sounds; it was about the movement of my mouth, the way I held the food. Was I a messy eater or the clean type? After a few months I had found my character and had started to dig myself a small niche in the mukbang community.
I don’t speak. I never know what to say and I think I sound like a chipmunk on video so I stay mute. Makeup is limited. Why wear lipstick when I’m just going to lick it off anyways. My videos always begin the same. I pull my hair away from my face and tie it back and I pull my rings off of my fingers and set them in a bowl off to the side. Then, I begin. And every video ends with a smile.
Eventually we started receiving payments for our videos and their views. Nothing big but it was nice to know that we were being enjoyed. And then I received an invitation in the mail. A company I’d never heard of was looking for an actress for some mukbang videos. No amount of money was mentioned and all details were being kept until I went to the audition. I wasn’t planning on going. It sounded creepy. I did these videos for the free food my friend supplied and because I liked the challenge each new food brought. I wasn’t up to performing for some weirdo in his mother’s basement. But my friend encouraged me to go saying you never know until you tried. Then he offered to drive me and hang around until we knew it was legit so I felt like I couldn’t refuse.
Turned out that it was legit. There had to have been over two hundred girls there of every size and ethnicity. Some I even recognized as the more famous eaters online. I became comfortable with the idea and told my friend he could leave. I thanked him for the ride and promised that I’d let him know what was happening. I didn’t expect much. I mean, I was relatively new to this world so never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d make it far in the auditions. Then – one by one – women were being sent home. We did rounds of sorts where we were given a menu and could choose the foods we ate. The only thing in the room with us was a chair and table, our food, and a camera that was fixated on us before we were left to enjoy our food.
I started with the spicy mushroom platter. I had seen so many videos of them eaten but had never gotten the chance. Let me tell you, they were delicious. The platters were small so that we weren’t too stuffed for the next round. I went easy on round two with chicken wings and drums, savoring the crunchy gristle at the ends. Then a pho dish, some seafood, and so on. I kept thinking that each round would be my last but I was wrong.
Then there were two of us.
We were placed at separate tables that were side by side and each had our own camera. A man came in with a clipboard and a group of techies followed behind him. As they fixed our cameras and microphones, he spoke.
“Thank you ladies for coming out today. We really appreciate you tolerating these grueling auditions.”
I murmured and the girl next to me gave a perky thank you. And I couldn’t be sure but it sounded as though English was the man’s second language. Not a big deal, just interesting.
He kept going, “If you are chosen, it won’t be for one or two videos. This is a career, ladies. Pay begins at one thousand a video and will only go up from there. You will be asked to do one video a week, you can do more if you are willing but will only be contracted for four a month. The foods will be chosen by our viewers for three of the fours videos. You will choose once a month to eat whatever makes you happy. You will receive full Dental and Health care, a car service will handle picking you up and dropping you back home, and all payments will be made via online bank services.”
I had a million questions running circles in my brain but I didn’t ask one. Neither did the princess next to me. I think we were both dumbfounded by what these people were willing to offer for us to eat food in front of a camera.
He asked us both if we were willing to continue on with the audition and if either of us wanted out. We didn’t move. The man smiled, showing grayish teeth, most dead and one missing altogether, before he left the room. The girl and I shared a moment. I raised my eyebrows asking her if she thought this was real. She shrugged and looked back to her camera. There was only a slight hesitation before she began to speak to her audience. Then, deciding that I wasn’t going to lose this opportunity to anyone, I began my ritual. The food was boiled duck eggs with the baby duck still intact, and a big pot of spicy soup with noodles, shrimp, and squid.
I should have noticed that my competitor was having trouble. She couldn’t eat the duck eggs and ended up puking back up what little of them she could eat. I didn’t notice. I was so set on what I was doing that I finished the entire meal before I saw that she was no longer in the chair next to me.
The man came back in wearing a huge smile. I was given congratulations, given a contract to sign right then and there, given a calendar for the upcoming shoots and a new cell phone, told that a car service would be taking me home, and, lastly, I was given a bag with ten thousand dollars in it. My first pay. He said that I had earned it for all of my hard work for that day.
That was it. I had a new career. I had to tell my friend that I could no longer film with him – I was owned by an agency now. And I quit school. It hadn’t been going all that well anyways and if I did enough videos I’d be set for life.
The day of the first shoot, the cell phone they’d given me rang and a voice told me that the car service was downstairs. I asked what I should wear, if they had any recommendations, but they told me to come as I was. I was taken to a warehouse where a small voice over studio had been built to record my chomps and slurps. When they had said that they didn’t care about my clothing or my looks, they hadn’t been joking. They preferred my plain tees and my light makeup. They even wanted me to keep my ritual. The man with the gray teeth had said to do whatever makes me happy. All that they expected of me was to eat everything on my plate. So I did, and I did it with a smile.
The first video was of a seafood feast. It was fresh and crisp and such an awesome video to make. That turned out to be one of the best meals I’ve had to date. Just so good. Then I ate things like crab and lobster, spicy noodle dishes, monk fish stew, cow eyes and tripe. Anything they could throw at me they did and I ate every bit of it. The money was too good. I eventually began making five thousand per shoot and the grosser the food the better the pay. Being the competitor that I am I started filming as often as I could. If I couldn’t sleep, I’d push the speed dial on the cell and ask if I could come in and eat. And believe me, I knew I was doing fetish videos but I wasn’t naked, I wasn’t being taken advantage of, so I didn’t care. After a few months and countless videos I was asked what kind of food limits I might have. I simply said that as long as it was edible I didn’t care.
That was when things began to turn. I started receiving strange cuts of meat slathered in barbeque sauce, sausage that had an odd flavor to it that sauce couldn’t hide. There was a soup where I found a tail I’m pretty sure was from a cat. But I had said whatever was edible. And who was I to judge anyways. People all over the world ate different animals. So there was cat and dog, bugs of all types, I think I even got road kill as a meal. And I could do it. I could swallow every bit of it for that paycheck. I’d wipe my mouth clean of monkey brains and entrails, put my jewelry back on and smile big for the camera.
All of this has led me here today and I should have seen it coming but I didn’t want to.
When I lifted the silver lid from my platter, for the first time I froze and felt bile creep up my tight throat. It was a uterus. Not the chicken uterus I’d eaten before, but human. It had been baked then cut open and placed on my tray like a Christmas package to display the baby they’d covered in my favorite sauce. I looked up at the camera, fighting down the contents of my stomach but not able to stop the tears from streaming down my cheeks, plopping into the open organ.
The man came storming in to the quiet room. “What’s wrong? We are losing viewers.”
I couldn’t speak. Just shook my head at him.
“You eat every other type of baby on this planet so what is wrong with this one?”
Again, I couldn’t talk.
I watched him fight his anger down and clench his fists. This was the first time that I had felt scared; of him, of the company I had been working for, of everything.
He let out a slow breath and muttered something in Russian. “You need to get used to this, okay?” he asked with a nod. “This is a by-product of another of our businesses, something we dispose of. Then we thought that this could be lucrative, for us and for you. And you will be paid so generously.” It was as if he was pleading to me. I wouldn’t think about the other business and didn’t want to think about how easily they could move me from this one to that. No one knew where I was. My friends were all still in school, family was five states away, and I had no clue where this warehouse was. I had never thought to pay attention to where I was being taken. All of my bad choices have led me here.
I am nothing more than a garbage pail with teeth.
“I like you,” he says, bringing me back to the present. “Please don’t make this difficult.”
He didn’t say what they would do to me but he didn’t need to. I have proof on my plate of what these people are willing to do for money. But am I any better?
I wipe the tears away, pull my hair back into a messy bun, and slowly take my jewelry off. I am a coward. I know now that I will do anything to be left alone and to be free of responsibility.
I pick the fetus up between by thumb and forefinger. It’s so tiny and alien looking; it’s clear flesh slippery between my fingers. I look at the man whose name I know I will never learn and I slip the baby between my lips. I know that I am no better than these monsters because I don’t hesitate as I crunch through the small rubbery bones, slurping hard into the microphone. I don’t stop to think about what I’ve done before I swallow the nameless face down and tuck into the uterus which has been cooked for too long and is too rubbery for my taste. I’ll have to have a talk with them about that. And I know that when the last bite of this meal has gone down I’ll do what I always do: I’ll smile.