Percentage of income spent on food: 15.3 percent and 13.2 percent [Sources: Washington State University ( ; Vox ]

Amount of calories consumed each day: 3040, compared to 1,590 in Eritrea and 3,800 in the United States. [Source: U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, Wikipedia ]

Cheese and butter are relatively new addition to the Korean diet. Although young Koreans enjoy cheeseburgers and pizza as much as their American counterparts, many older Koreans find cheese to be revolting. Some Asians have a hard time digesting cheese. A Korean doctor once told me he accidently took a bite of some "stinky cheese" in Paris and had to make a quick dash to toilet to keep from throwing up in front of his dinner companions.

Jia Choi, president of O'ngo Food Communications, a cookery school in Seoul, told The Guardian, kimchi forms the basis of a perfectly balanced meal: several dishes made with seasonal vegetables, with a smaller quantity of rice or noodle dishes providing the carbohydrate. Traditionally, meat was never considered part of the Korean culinary jigsaw, and the famed barbecue restaurants that line Seoul's streets today only took off after the city hosted the summer Olympics in 1988. [Source: Justin McCurry, The Guardian, March 21, 2014]

Changing Korean Diet

Chunghee Sarah Soh wrote in “Countries and Their Cultures”: “The rapid changes in lifestyles that have accompanied economic development since the 1960s have changed the traditional pattern of eating rice at each meal.Some urbanites may eat toast, eggs, and milk for breakfast, using a fork and knife. Nonetheless, for many people a bowl of steamed white rice, a soybean-paste vegetable soup, and a dish of kimchi may still constitute the basic everyday meal, to which steamed or seasoned vegetables, fish, meats, and other foods may be added as side dishes (panch'an). Many people eat at a low table while sitting on the ondol floor, using a spoon and chopsticks. [Source: Chunghee Sarah Soh, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“There are no food taboos in Korea, although Buddhist monks may practice vegetarianism and observe other food taboos. Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “ Though rice is still the staple at any meal, there is an increasing emphasis on wheat products such as bread and noodles. Korean food takes a lot of time to prepare and Western convenience foods are continually gaining popularity as family members spend less and less time in the home because of outside obligations. This change in the pace of life accounts for the popularity of fast-food chain restaurants including the ubiquitous McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

Reuters reported: “The average South Korean salaryman is primarily powered by rice, greasy pork, instant noodles and cheap liquor, according a government-backed survey. Rice accounted for about 35 percent of the calorie intake for the typical male worker. Pork products accounted for 5 percent and the local liquor called soju was at just over 2 percent, the survey from the Korea Health Industry Development Institute said. The typical South Korean women had a similar breakdown for their main sources of nourishment, but they drank less soju than men and more sugar-laden instant coffee, the survey released this week said. South Korea has been battling a problem of increasing obesity as people have shifted away from the traditional diet that is heavy in pickled vegetables to one with more processed and fast food. [Source: Reuters, May 2, 2007]

South Korea is very wired and Internet-savvy place and this is reflected in it food culture. Jiayang Fan wrote in The New Yorker: “In South Korea, where the word for family translates into “those who eat together,” the online phenomenon of Mok-bang, or “eating broadcast,” in which a video host shares the consumption (and sometimes the creation) of his or her solo meal with an online audience, amounts to a Millennial response to the increasingly outdated cultural faux pas. If you are eating in front of a screen and conversing with virtual companions (sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands) in the comment section, might an act of solitude transform itself into one of solidarity?” [Source: Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker, January 14, 2015]

Nutrition and Getting Taller in South Korea

It is said the Korean way of preparing and eating their dishes makes for healthy eating. With their emphasis on lot of side dishes (panchon), Koreans eat a lot of different kinds of vegetables and foods. Koreans have a relatively low obesity rate. Being overweight has traditionally been considered a sign of wealth and in the past was generally associated with the rich and high-level officials.

According to South Korean nutritional food guide — a food pagoda rather than a pyramid — children should drink milk everyday, keep harmony between their diet and daily life, enjoy eating and maintain good dental health. [Source: Washington Post]

Between 1954 and 2000, caloric intake of the average Korean has increased by a third. According to the “”Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World””: “Almost all Koreans receive adequate nutrition in their diets, with the World Bank reporting that less than 1 percent of the population is malnourished and nearly all have access to adequate sanitation and safe drinking water. Korean farmers grow enough rice to meet the country's needs, and fruit growers produce abundant crops of apples, pears, persimmons, and melons. The main vegetable crops are white radish, known as mu, and cabbage. Both are used in kimchi, the national dish. [Source: “”Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World””, The Gale Group, Inc., 2002]

In South Korea in the 1990s, 14-year-old children were 4½ inches taller that their counterparts in 1954. According to another study between 1962 and 1996 the average height of women rose from 5-foot-1-inches to 5-foot-3-inches and men rose from 5-foot-5-inches to 5-foot-8-inches.

Most scientist attribute the increase to nutritional changes, such as more milk and meat in the Korean diet and more food period. Since 1954 rice consumption has increased by 40 percent and the caloric intake of the average Korean has increased by a third. Others have proposed more far-fetched theories for the height increase. One researcher suggested that the switch from sitting on the floor to sitting Western-style chairs has straightened out the backs of Koreans and made them taller.

Eating Habits in Korea

A traditional meal is served with rice, vegetables and kimchi. Fruit is often eaten as desert. A bowl of steamed white rice, a soybean-paste vegetable soup and a dish of kimchi — with side dishes (panch'an) such as steamed or seasoned vegetables, fish, meats, and other foods — make up the basic everyday meal. Many urban Korean have adopted the American way of eating — a big breakfast, light lunch, and a big dinner. Rice and kimchi are the dietary base, and often eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Koreans are often in a hurry and wolf down their food very quickly. Many people eat at a low table while sitting on the ondol floor, using a spoon and chopsticks. Others sit Western-style in chairs around a raised table, sometimes using forks and knives.

Breakfast is generally eaten between 7:00am and 7:30am and consists of kimchi, rice, soup, bean sprouts, and seaweed. Some urbanites eat toast, eggs, and milk for breakfast, even cereal. But many still have a bowl of steamed white rice, and a dish of kimchi. Most people eat breakfast at home. It's hard to find a restaurant that serves breakfast. Some coffee shops have a set breakfast with a drink, toast, boiled egg and light food. Lunch is generally eaten between 12:00 noon and 2:00pm. Many people eat out, grabbing a quick meal or snack such as a bowl of noodles, Korean pancakes, or Chinese food.

Dinner is generally eaten between 6:00pm and 8:00pm. It generally an informal meal with meat or fish, rice. Main dishes made at home, include thing listed under Korean dishes. Fancier dinners include some of the items listed below. Often times the mother and children have a meal around 6:00 or 7:00pm and then the kids do homework, do online lessons or go to a cram school and the father eats when he comes home after work, often 10:00pm or later.

Korean often drink nothing with their meals, Soup often serves the purpose of a drink. Sometimes beer, wine, hot tea, cold tea, barley-flavored water, water or other drinks are served with their meals. An evening snack of fruit is commonly eaten around 10:00pm.

Typical Korean Meals

Katarzyna J. Cwiertka wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Food and Culture”: “There are few differences among the food Koreans consume at each meal. Supper is usually more elaborate than breakfast and lunch, but generally speaking, every meal is centered on plain boiled rice (pap), soup (bouillon-like kuk or a more hearty t'ang), and pickled vegetables (kimchi). Side dishes (panch'an) extend this core, and their number depends on the occasion. Three to five side dishes are the norm in contemporary households. [Source: Katarzyna J. Cwiertka, “Encyclopedia of Food and Culture”, The Gale Group Inc., 2003]

“Stews (tchigae, tchim, chon'gol) and soused or sautéed greens (namul, pokkŭm) constitute the majority of side dishes, complemented by grilled dishes (kui or sanjok) made of seafood, beef, pork, or chicken. Stews tend to acquire the position of a semi-main dish, as does pulgogi, turning into a center of the meal accompanied by a bowl of rice, smaller panch'an, and dipping sauces. Big-bowl dishes such as fried rice (pokkŭmbap), beef soup with rice (solongt'ang), and mixed rice (pibimbap) are served in a similar fashion, with small portions of greens and pickles on the side.

“Rice boiled or steamed with beans, other grains, or vegetables may be served instead of plain boiled rice. A variety of wheat and buckwheat noodles (kuksu) also frequently appear on the Korean table. Noodles are usually served in soupy liquids, while stuffed dumplings (mandu) can be either steamed, panfried, or simmered in soups (manduguk). Noodles and dumplings are popular lunch dishes. Flavored rice porridges (chuk) are less commonplace than rice, noodles, and dumplings, but still retain a notable place in Korean cuisine.

“Chili pepper, sesame (seed and oil), garlic, and spring onions, along with soy sauce (kanjang), soybean paste (toenjang), and red bean paste (koch'ujang) constitute what might be called a Korean "flavoring principle." The combination of all or a selection of these ingredients gives Korean dishes their characteristic taste. Ginger, semi-sweet rice wine (ch'ongju), and honey or sugar are the other crucial components of the Korean flavor.

Seasonal Foods in Korea

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Koreans look forward to each of the year's four seasons for the different kinds of foods that are typical of each one. The spring brings strawberries. Summer brings peaches, melons, and tomatoes, which Koreans count as fruit. Fall brings apples and pears and other delicacies of the harvest season such as persimmons. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

“During the winter, people warm up with tea and roast chestnuts. People delight in the variety. The wide-scale adoption of greenhouse farming has also made it possible to extend the growing season. Sheltering fields under vinyl "tents" makes it possible to harvest Korea's succulent strawberries much earlier in the year. Bananas, which used to be imported, can now be grown in heated greenhouses on Cheju Island off the southern coast.

And although Korea has always had mandarin oranges, Koreans now grow their own Florida-style oranges in the southernmost part of the country. Chinese, Japanese, and Western Food Koreans do not normally entertain guests in their own homes, which are set up as private domiciles. Nor, for the most part, do couples entertain other couples. Instead, women have their own friendships that are confined mainly to the household and to aspects of women's work outside the home, such as communal kimch'i making.”

Instant Foods Sell Well During Down Economic Times

Instant foods sold well in South Korea during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. The Korea Herald reported: “While gloom may hover over most manufacturing and trade sectors, makers of instant foods are profiting from the crisis...Processed foods manufacturers—Nongshim, Ottogi and Korea Yakult—are posting double-digit sales growth amid the economic downturn, thanks to robust demand for instant noodles, commonly known as ramyeon, and pre-prepared dishes. [Source: Korea Herald, November 2008]

Nongshim, Korea' s largest ramyeon-maker, said total sales between January and October in 2008 “reached almost 1 trillion won (US$667 billion). Of this, instant noodles accounted for 962.7 billion won, up 13.8 percent compared with the same period last year. Ottogi said strong demand for items like ramyeon, instant curry dishes and other quick-meal fixes helped the company post 978.3 billion won in sales up to September, a 22.2-percent jump from last year. At the same time, net profit surged 21.59 percent to 49.1 billion won.

“Even Korea Yakult, more famous for its yogurt drinks, has seen an increase in demand for its instant noodle products, which grew by 32 percent. Industry experts attribute the rising demand for instant foods to individuals choosing to limit expenses incurred dining out, while seeking more affordable comfort foods like ramyeon and pre-prepared dishes instead.”

South Koreans Get Into Online Dining Shows

In the 2010s, South Koreans started really getting into online dining shows, some of them showing little more than some guy or young woman eating by himself in his apartment and talking between bites. Reuters reported; “Park Seo-yeon sets the table with dishes of Korean beef, kimchi casserole and rice. Switching on her computer and camera, she begins to eat alone as thousands of viewers watch and chat with her in real time over the Internet. South Korea's latest fad - gastronomic voyeurism - offers surprising amounts of money to thousands of online diners while serving up a sense of community in the wealthy Asian country's increasingly solitary society. [Source: Reuters, January 27, 2016]

“Known as The Diva, Park broadcasts for up to three hours every day from her apartment outside Seoul. During the show, viewers send her virtual balloons worth 100 won (9 U.S. cents) each, giving her an average monthly income of about US$9,400. ( Park, 34, said the most she earned in one sitting was 1.1 million won. She began her show as a hobby three years ago but has since quit her job at a consulting firm and plans to get into retailing. "People enjoy the vicarious pleasure when they can't eat this much or find that food at night or are on a diet," she said minutes before a recent broadcast.

“She checked on the chatroom while eating a Korean-style beef tartare called yukhoe. "Let's eat together. Together!" Park said, responding to a viewer's message that said: "I just rushed off and picked up yukhoe". One the show’s success, Park said, “Loneliness is” a “crucial factor. The show is addictive as you can communicate with thousands of people at home."

In modern South Korea, families are fragmenting as old social ties break down. One-person households are set to increase from 25.3 percent of the total in 2012 to 32.7 percent in 2030, the fastest rate in the rich countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, research papers show.

About 3,500 people are running food-eating shows and some hit programmes are sponsored by restaurants. "It feels as if I am the one eating that much," Park Sun-young, a 26-year-old viewer of The Diva's broadcasts, said at an Internet cafe. "It is comforting for people who eat alone." The Diva said she is not simply making money from a food binge but is a providing a benefit to society. "It feels great when people said 'I recovered from anorexia thanks to you' or 'Thank you for a fun and delicious time'," she said. "I am the woman who lives a life to eat."

South Korea: Land of Delivered Food

It is hard to find something that cannot be delivered to your door in Seoul. Lee Joo-hee wrote in the Korea Herald: “While they range from ordinary parcels to laundry, it is the food delivery, originally confined to Korean-Chinese restaurants just a couple of decades ago, which has evolved immensely. Not to mention diverse menus, further spoiling the stay-at-home customers is that many of these services are offered 24-7. Indeed, with just one phone call, anything seems possible. "An advanced delivery culture could derive from a combination of factors such as a rising number of one-person household and better economic capabilities. Fundamentally, it is because there is the demand for it," said consumer economics professor Shin Do-cheol of Seoul's Sookmyung University. [Source: Lee Joo-hee, Korea Herald, March 30, 2010]

“Things that can be delivered are boundless. Beyond the traditional delivery menus of Chinese, pizza and fried chicken, these days such menus as rolls, pasta, chili soup, and even ddeokbokgi (rice cake pan-fried in red chili sauce) can be delivered to your door. Due to a rise in recognition of healthy products, many smaller shops also offer special items that are made from organic food products or those that do not fry, such as oven-baked chicken.

“Not only that, small ally shops and chain supermarkets also bring to houses groceries purchased on the spot or through the internet. "Because it is just simply hard to buy and carry all those groceries, I always use the home delivery service that is usually free of charge as long as it is over a certain sum of money. Of course I wouldn't use the service if it was additionally charged," Yoo Hee-june, a 55-year-old housewife said.

More stores are also even welcoming orders for just one person, following the rise in the number of one-person household over the years. (According to the National Statistical Office, the number of one-person household surged to approximately 3.42 million this year, compared to 1.64 million in 1995.) It indeed seems to be a natural phenomenon these days to spur up business by delivering, whether it is a small store or a giant chain.

Yangpa Super (market), a tiny grocery store located in the street of Dongbuichon-dong, has been delivering groceries for at least 15 years. "We usually do business with our frequent customers who all live in the same neighborhood. We don't charge for the delivery, even if it is just a couple of bottles of water," said Song Yeong-rae of the shop. Yangpa (meaning onion in English) delivers at least 13 times a day and the items are usually fruits, vegetables and drinks. Some even order late at night a bottle of wine and cheese, apparently for a midnight snack, and they are more than happy to deliver it.

McDonald’s, one of the world’s biggest fast food chains, also began the home delivery service here in 2007, along with an introduction of a drive-through service to fight sluggish sales. "Although it is impossible to reveal the exact figures, McDonald’s Korea’s sales has been picking up these past years such as by 16 percent in 2007, and over 20 percent in 2008," said Yeom Hye-ji, communication manager of McDonald’s Korea. Delivery by the hamburger giant is also offered in other countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia. Then there are also the Korean brands that made their name through their quick and convenient delivery service.

McDonalds in Bed at 1:00am? Happy Delivery Food Customers in Seoul

Lee Joo-hee wrote in the Korea Herald: “As the clock ticks closer to midnight, the stomach starts to make growling sounds. But the refrigerator is near empty, and cans in the pantry all require actual cooking....Stacks of colorful leaflets meet the eye. And now starts the fulfilling moment of deciding on the menu. From fried chicken to Chinese, the winner tonight is McDonald’s. It is a guilty pleasure but perhaps less so than having a whole fried chicken or pizza. [Source: Lee Joo-hee, Korea Herald, March 30, 2010]

“After a quick phone call and some 30 minutes, the doorbell rings and within minutes the oh-so-delicious Big Mac and famous French fries are gobbled up. Park Jeong-hyun, a 36-year-old husband and a designer, is what you may call an avid food delivery consumer, who orders in at least three times a week. "Because both my wife and I work, it is usually quite burdensome to buy all the ingredients and cook every dinner. So we often opt to order in, sometimes just basic baekban (rice, jjigae and side dishes) or pizza, depending on our mood," Park said. He orders from a superfluous amount of coupons and leaflets that are usually left at his doorstep each day.

“Kim Na-young, a 32-year-old game developer who recently moved to San Francisco, said food delivery is one of the “stronger points to living “ in Seoul. "Well, if you order in anything here (in the United States), you need to pay tips, whereas in Korea we don’t have to. It’s almost a given that they ‘must’ bring it to our home in Korea," Kim said. She also added that the range of menu and speed of the delivery seem to be wider and faster in Seoul.

“Kim Dong-geun, who has been the head of a food delivery chain School Food, Blooming Roll’s delivery team for the past three years, agrees. "I think it is due to Korea’s ppali-ppali characteristics that motor the fast advancement of the delivery culture here. I mean we often get phone calls just five minutes after the customer orders in, demanding to know what is taking us so long," Kim said, smiling.

Gimgane: Korea’s Deliver Food Giant

One of the biggest food dleivery service is Gimgane (meaning Kim’s place), which was launched in 1994. Based on the survey on 400 Gimgane franchise stores nationwide in March 2010, 47 percent of sales come from home delivery, followed by 42 percent who eat at the store and 11 percent who order take out at the restaurant. [Source: Lee Joo-hee, Korea Herald, March 30, 2010]

Lee Joo-hee wrote in the Korea Herald: The “chain first began with a take out service but as demands for home delivery grew it began to deliver in 1999. Gimgane is most famous for bunshik, or street food, from its assortments of gimbab (rice with vegetables and meat roled in dried seaweed) and also carries ramyeon, udong noodles and even Spanish-style fried rice.

“"Our strong point is that fresh vegetables and various ingredients are delivered to each franchise store every morning, not to mention standardizing the recipe to maintain the quality of food," said Lee Joon-hee, manager of Gimgane’s marketing team. "The most important point in delivered food is that it must taste the same as it was when freshly cooked when it reaches the customer’s home," he said. For that Gimgane uses specially designed packages to separate soups with noodles and to maintain the heat for as long as possible. Based on their success here, Gimgane has also begun operating shops in China as well as an office in Australia.

Risking Life and Limb to Deliver Hot Pizza in Seoul

Reporting from Seoul, John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “They're on the streets at all hours, the motorcycle deliverymen slicing through traffic in their race against the clock, defying both the law and common sense to get their cargo delivered on time. Run a few red lights? Pull a last-second dash across six lanes of traffic? No problem. And if the zigzag through gridlock fails, there's always the sidewalk; pedestrians know to stay out of the way. "It's not that I want to deliberately disobey traffic laws, but when you have customers breathing down your neck, it's really hard not to," deliveryman Bang Chang-min said. "When I'm on a bike, I'm under so much pressure that I feel I transform into somebody else." [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2010]

“But the recent death of a pizza deliveryman may cause South Koreans to rethink their obsession with zippy fast-food conveyance. On Tuesday, government officials announced a new educational campaign to encourage consumers to think safety over speed. In the last five years, 4,098 vehicular accidents nationwide involved motorcycle deliverymen, a subculture dominated by teenagers looking for part-time work, according to government statistics.

“Activists blame a deadly mix of youthful recklessness and a corporate system that demands that drivers take chances. And such accidents are on the rise: Last year saw 1,395 accidents involving deliverymen. Although there are no statistics on related fatalities, unions estimate that such deaths have reached double digits for the last decade. In South Korea, all kinds of food are advertised with quick home delivery, varying from burgers and fried chicken and items bought at mom-and-pop groceries. The result is often road chaos. Deliverymen dash about the city with boxes strapped to the backs of their motorcycles. Some drive one-handed so they can carry more orders.

“Delivery jobs are stressful and the turnover rate is high. With some pizza companies, drivers must absorb the loss if they arrive late and the food becomes free. Others pay drivers, most of whom make less than US$5 an hour, an incentive of 40 cents for on-time arrivals. Some even display a ticking clock on their websites when an online order is completed. Activists say that speed kills. "The clock starts as soon as the order is taken, putting immense pressure on these young men," said Kim Young-kyung, president of the Youth Community Union. "Companies train new employees to use every available method regardless of the law. The bottom line is to get there on time."

“Pressure put on firms has produced little results. "Companies tell government investigators that young men like to ride their motorcycles fast, so there's little they can do," Kim said. "These kids are often too young to think on their own. But instead of emphasizing safety, the bosses exploit them." In December 2010, “a 24-year-old Pizza Hut deliveryman was killed when he was hit by a taxi that had run a red light. On the same day, an 18-year-old driver for another firm was injured in a collision with a bus, officials say.

“Protesters recently rallied outside the Employment and Labor Ministry, holding up placards, one of which read, "The 30-minute delivery system kills people." In its announcement, the ministry said it would launch a TV, radio and subway advertising campaign, along with the dispersal of leaflets at fast food outlets, emphasizing the high accident and injury rate among motorcycle deliverymen. Activists say companies have a long way to go to ensure the safety of deliverymen. One hamburger chain, for example, requires drivers to wear helmets without chin guards because they fear the fuller head gear looks menacing to customers. Drivers have since endured facial injuries in road accidents, Kim said. Bang said he has worked for two firms, each with the same rules. "Both said safety was a priority," he said, "but the aim is to get to the destination as fast as possible."

Luxury-Hygienic Street Food in South Korea

Lee Joo-hee wrote in the Korea Herald: The more luxurious version of Korea’s street food is School Food, Blooming Roll. School Food, named with the inspiration to bring back the taste of street food enjoyed around local school zones, first opened as a delivery shop in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul, in 2002. The store was an immediate hit as the neighborhood was filled with those living alone as well as among employees at beauty shops and other entertainment services. [Source: Lee Joo-hee, Korea Herald, March 30, 2010]

“By taking a trendy turn of the humble menus such as bite-sized rolls, ddeokbokgi, gimbab, jjolmyeon (noodles in spicy and sour sauce) and others, the store fast spread into other parts of Seoul and even opened sit-in restaurants in such areas as Cheongdam-dong. Interiors are also hip with wooden floors and raw cement walls with neon signs. It is also planning businesses in Japan and the United States.

“What School Food concentrates most on is the quality and sanitary of the food, according to Lee Jung-eun, general manager of School Food’s administration team. "We really put a lot of focus on sanitation as it is becoming more problematic for mushrooming food delivery businesses as people cannot see the cooking process," Lee said.

“School Food operates from a semi-open kitchen and begins cooking only when the order is registered, despite the longer period it takes for the food to reach the customers’ home. School Food continues to offer a 24-hour delivery service, depending on the region. In order to systemize the control of sanitation in delivery stores, each district is also preparing various measures now.

“In March this year, Korea Food and Drug Administration found 1,002 businesses of the nationwide food delivery stores to be unhygienic such as by failing to sterilize tableware. Seoul has begun from this year urging all restaurants to specify the place of origin of ingredients. Calls are now rising that it should also apply to food being delivered to customers’ houses. "Unless we actually go to the restaurant to check the origin of the ingredients, there is no way for us to figure out where the food we are eating came from if we deliver. The system should be extended to delivery food as well to allow customers a rightful choice of what to eat," professor Choi Seong-wook of Nonghyup Gurye Education Center said in a recent column to a newspaper.

"Garbage" Dumpling Scandal Raises Food Safety Concerns

In 2004, AFP reported: “The South Korean government announced a food safety crackdown after a watchdog agency found food processing firms had used rotten ingredients in a popular dish. The move came after the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) said at least 19 firms had produced what newspapers called "garbage" dumplings by using imported radish from China that was unfit for human consumption. [Source: AFP, June 10 2004]

Dumplings, prepared by stuffing seasoned minced meat and vegetables inside a flour-based "skin," are popular in South Korea, China, Japan and elsewhere in Asia. "The companies were found to have used harmful radish for their dumpling products," said KFDA chief Shim Chang-Koo. "Tigher regulations are needed to punish food-related crimes," he added.

“The dumpling scandal triggered a public outcry. Civic groups have demanded tighter food quality control and harsh punishment for violators. The government and the ruling Uri Party agreed to push for a revision of South Korea's food hygiene law to strengthen the punishment of manufacturers of unsafe foods.

“Japan's health ministry stopped processing dumpling imports from South Korea, effectively banning their entry into Japan. Japan imported 864 tons of frozen dumplings from South Korea last year. This year so far, Japan has imported 437 tons of frozen South Korean dumplings, according to the ministry. "We are waiting for South Korea to officially tell us about the situation and which companies are involved in the scandal," said an official with the health ministry. "Once we know which firms are involved, we can take the next step" of banning dumpling from certain firms and of recalling the ones that already were shipped to stores.

Food Company Head Commits Suicide over "Garbage" Dumplings

A few days after the “Garbage Dumplings” scandal broke head of a food company, accused of selling dumplings made with rotten ingredients, jumped to his death. Associated Press reported: “Police have yet to find the body of the man — identified in media reports only by his family name, Shin — the head of Vision Food, a dumpling company based in South Jeolla Province. But officers found his identification card and a recently written will, and a witness saw a man matching his description jumping from a bridge in Seoul's Han River on Sunday, a police official said on customary condition of anonymity. [Source: AP, June 15, 2004]

“South Korea's Food and Drug Administration announced that at least 12 companies had been using rotten radishes in their frozen dumplings from 2003 until February 2004 and ordered the dumplings pulled off the shelves. The government has so far confiscated 20 tonnes of what the local press dubbed "garbage dumplings'' while food makers retrieved and destroyed at least 50 tonnes.

“In his will, Shin said that he faced economic difficulties with creditors following the dumpling scandal. He wrote that his company's dumplings were harmless. So far, there have been no reports of illness from the dumplings. Still, department stores have told local media that dumpling sales have dropped by up to 90 percent after the announcement.

“According to the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy, South Korea exports US$5 million worth of dumplings annually. The U.S. imported US$2.6 million worth, followed by Japan with US$880,000, Australia with US$640,000, Hong Kong at US$370,000 and Germany with US$350,000. It was unclear how many "garbage dumplings'' have been distributed at home or abroad.”

South Korea’s Food Waste Problem

Food waste has long been a significant problem in South Korea, especially as its traditional food requires of large number of small dishes. “Unlike countries where meals are one-plate dishes, South Korean food culture is centered around banchan [a variety of side dishes that accompany meals], which creates a lot of leftover food,” Kim Mi-hwa, chair of the Korea Zero Waste Movement Network, told the Huffington Post. landfills had already reached a tipping point. [Source: Max S. Kim, Huffington Post, April 8, 2019]

In the late 1990s, increased standards of living, a growing appetite for dining out and the rise of one-person households fueled a steady increase in food waste. In major urban areas like Seoul. “The waste just wasn’t decreasing, so we campaigned the government by telling them that we’d need a radical solution,” said Kim, one of the earliest advocates of the pay-as-you-waste scheme. “Not only does South Korea have small land mass, but growing public awareness about the environment made it impossible to just add more landfills or processing plants.”

Han Sung Hyun oversees Seoul’s food waste program at the city Environmental Management Division.He told NPR: At first, we processed all the food waste in landfills. Then we realized the pollution it created, and wanted to find a way to recycle the waste.” Hyun says the city used to spend 600-thousand dollars a day on food waste disposal- money now saved through recycling.

“It actually costs a lot to process the food waste. So we were like, let us find the way to save money, also to reduce pollution, and eventually to find a way to recycle the waste. [Source: Mori Rothman and Megan Thompson PBS, March 19, 2017]

Seoul now deploys special trucks to pick up food waste from apartment complexes, restaurants, and other businesses and bring them to special recycling facilities. This one handles 80 to 90 truck-loads every day. There are five factories in Seoul that processes food waste. This machine dries the food waste and turns it into animal feed in just three hours.

South Korea Does Something About Its Food Waste Problem

South Korea has managed to increase food waste recycling levels from 2 percent to 95 percent. A ‘Food Waste Reduction Masterplan was created in 1996. A recycling programme was established in 1998 and revamped in 2004, demanding the collection of food waste in residential areas and from food wasters such as restaurants. In 2005 food waste was banned from landfills. In 2010, the Ministry of Environment in collaboration with the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs carried out a food waste reduction project by signing agreements with different sectors for voluntary cooperation. The sectors included restaurants, hotels, schools, rest areas on highways, etc. Restaurants were encouraged to use fewer small side-dish plates and adopt eco-friendly menus; cafeterias in public institutions launched the "no-leftover day" once a week. Also in 2010, the South Korean government introduced a volume-based food waste fee system. [Source:]

Under the volume-based charge scheme, households are required to pay based on the amount of food waste they generate. Municipalities can choose among three “pay-as-you-throw” solutions. First, there are paid standard plastic bags. Secondly, attaching paid stickers to food-waste bins (which are not emptied without stickers). The third includes a high-tech solution: operating food-waste bins with magnetic card-readers that households must use when disposing of their waste. The weight of the waste is measured on a scale at the bottom. Monthly data serves as a basis for charging fees to households.

Max S. Kim wrote in the Huffington Post: In Seoul, South Korea’s densely populated capital, “grassroots movements and government campaigns have dramatically transformed how people dispose of their leftover food. Once a city where unsightly and foul-smelling landfills loomed over entire neighborhoods, Seoul now operates one of the most rigorous food waste recycling programs in the world. The results have been impressive. The South Korean government banned sending food to landfills in 2005 and, in 2013, also prohibited the dumping of garbage juice (leftover water squeezed from food waste) into the sea. Today, a staggering 95 percent of food waste is recycled ― a remarkable leap from less than 2 percent in 1995. Seoul has managed to cut the amount of food waste produced by 400 metric tons per day. [Source: Max S. Kim, Huffington Post, April 8, 2019]

“Walk along any residential street in Seoul and you’ll see why. On Chung’s street, residents emerge at dusk to deposit small yellow bags into designated waste collection buckets.

Since 2013, South Koreans have been required by law to discard food waste in these biodegradable bags, priced according to volume and costing the average four-person family about US$6 a month. By purchasing them from the local convenience store or supermarket, residents are effectively paying a tax on their food waste upfront. In Seoul, this tax pays for roughly 60 percent of the cost of collecting and processing the city’s food waste, according to government data. It’s simple but brilliant: Not only does it offer incentives for you to reduce waste, it makes you confront it. “It made me cut down on the food I threw away a lot,” Chung said. “Not only for economic reasons, but visually it makes you aware of how much waste you’re producing.”

Some districts in Seoul use a more high-tech variant for apartment complexes, which has seen even better results. In large metal waste receptacles outfitted with measuring scales and a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip reader, residents can deposit their waste directly, bag-free. The machine calculates the fee by weighing the amount, and residents pay by swiping a card in front of the scanner. “Over the last six years, we reduced a total of about 47,000 tons of food waste [with the RFID machines],” said Lee Kang-soo, head of the local government-run food recycling program in Seoul’s Songpa District. “We assume it’s because people want to pay less money, since the cost increases with the weight.”

“The chief benefit of the RFID machine is that it encourages residents to remove any moisture ― which accounts for about 80 percent of food waste ― before tossing it in the machine, saving on collection costs. In Songpa District alone, according to Lee, the machines have saved 9.6 billion won (about US$8.4 million) in logistical expenses.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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