Lindsay and I decided this Friday afternoon on our way home that the school lunches this week have been among the best lunches we have ever eaten in our lives.
If any of you from outside of Korea just showed up for lunch one afternoon you would probably be quick to disagree. I firmly believe that Korean food is an acquired taste, but one well worth acquiring a taste for. Our lunches would turn the heads of most American students and probably even make a few dry heave.
This week we ate pork, leaves, grass(it wasn’t but it looked like it), fish(we think), soups, rice, kimchi and other tasty things. No sign of hot pockets, microwaved pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries or tater tots.
Last week we ate pigs’ blood that had been made into a sausage, called “sun-dae.” Lindsay and I found it a bit ironic that they turned their nose up at American beef, but gladly ate pigs’ blood. But that is just our American minds and stomachs talking.
I have found food to be one of the most interesting things about Korea. I love seeing what people choose to eat. One could definitely eat close to the way you do back home, but why would you? After returning home for a week last month, I sorely missed Korean food. I was upset when we stopped at our first gas station for a snack only to see hot pockets and doughnuts as our best options. Don’t get me wrong, you can get doughnuts here, but you can also usually get much better and healthier foods. It brought me to the opinion that Koreans care much more about what they put into their body than we do in the west.
With this in mind I have had a difficult time being to critical of Koreans in their quest to ban American meat from their shelves. It has been blown out of proportion, for sure, as students have held up signs that read “I don’t want to die.” But while there reasoning initially seems groundless and overblown, it is hard for me to defend the American beef industry.
One book that will turn your stomach is by Eric Schlosser called Fast Food Nation. Schlosser’s 2001 book made me wary of buying ground beef. He famously took fast food chains and the meatpacking industries to task for not having stricter regulations or good working conditions. He showed both industries had underpaid workers who did questionable things with our food, and rich people at the top who cared little about what they sold so long as they made lots of money. Sick cows were slaughtered anyway and fast food meat was bought cheap because of its low quality. Schlosser’s most resounding line in the book was “There is shit in the meat.” He goes on to say that “the USDA in a 1996 study found that at meat processing plants, 78.6 percent of the ground beef contained microbes … spread primarily by fecal material.”
Today New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote great piece on US beef in response to the South Korean protest. He blames it largely on capitalism and cronyism. He makes the beef industry sound like a huge business with not enough workers. Stricter regulations would call of more time and money. Two things rich capitalist’s at the helm don’t seem to want to shell out. Also when mad cow disease was found in 2003, our Secretary of the Department of Agriculture was a former food industry lobbyist. Clearly, making a big deal out of this outbreak was not in her best interest.
I am hoping that the Korean fervor in stopping American beef imports will force the industry to shape up so they can ship their product out. Sometimes it takes a loud outside voice to bring a good change. While Koreans might be more upset with their current president or with American foreign policy in general, I think the US meat industry needs a swift kick(or ddong ch’im) in the butt.