Fried food, burgers, waffles, cheese in a can- sound familiar? It should if you’re from the West, but for Koreans, these are all still relatively new items. Getting used to them doesn’t take much effort, but the rising problems that come about from the overconsumption of unhealthy foods and the under-consumption of local cuisine lead to far too many problems.
Spending an entire day inside of a classroom and supplementary cram school or at a highly demanding workplace leaves little time and energy for modern South Koreans to cook. On top of this arise popular fad diets, one of the most popular being the more traditional “don’t eat past 6 pm” approach. This tends to leave the average modern South Korean starving themselves until breakfast the next day since people are often too caught up with work at the time.
So how do people get around these problems? With take-out. It’s a rampantly booming market, and people enjoy having the option to try new cuisine every night that might not have been available in South Korea just a couple of generations ago. As more restaurants popped up, so did the demand for Western food. Of course, a lot of these Western foods are made to suit Korean tastes, like Korea’s notoriously sweet pizza, and fried chicken flavors that surpass those currently available at a local American KFC. Modern diets are also cutting out Korean staples such as white rice to cut down on carbs, but this, in turn, leads to a surplus of rice being produced by the country that needs to be exported in order to gain back monetary losses.
De-Localization of South Korean Cuisine
Using local ingredients is the best way to support your community, small businesses, and country. There are plenty of fresh food markets in South Korea, especially when venturing from the central hub, Seoul. Traditional regional foods that used local ingredients, such as the cold soybean noodle soup (Kongguksu), typically had small casual restaurants that specialized in that one menu item, but this is also rapidly changing and morphing into restaurants that specialize in one particular Western food. Unfortunately, because of the sharp rise in fast food joints opening up at record speeds in highly populated areas, large corporations like McDonalds and Subway are pocketing the money that would have originally gone to a local farmer or fisherman.
The Skinny Complex
Many South Koreans are constantly trying to maintain a specific diet, or are conscious of their weight. Women and men alike are mesmerized by the body proportions of public figures, mostly entertainers, going as far as ridiculing an idol for gaining a few pounds or tearing apart an idol for being too skinny. The quest for perfection as dictated by media seems to be never ending as plastic surgery has become a normality for the population, and it doesn’t stop at just the face; South Koreans are just as focused on obtaining the perfect legs, arms, and flat stomach that they see on models.
At the same time, with less time for healthy food and more tolerance for highly-caloric food, the visually “ideal” body is becoming harder to obtain by the day. Traditional Korean food is based around getting nutrients from vegetables and fruits, nutritious soups, and healthy grains. As these traditional foods continue to be pushed further away from the modern dining table, western foods that are packed with empty calories will continue to contribute to the overall weight gain of the population.
There are many other points to make within this conversation, so let us know what you think in the comments below!