Writing this week from Seoul, South Korea, where I’ve been the guest of the Korea National Food Cluster known as Foodpolis, the government-sponsored food industrial complex being built east of Iksan.
My visit to South Korea actually began with a conversation with Dr. Won Song at Michigan State University about what I might expect, especially since I’d never been to Korea before.
Professor Song has returned to Korea on a number of occasions, most recently as a visiting professor for the fall 2009-2010 school year at Seoul National University. She’s also held other posts in Korea, in industry and at universities, before joining MSU’s respected Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.
First Dr. Song said I should have no fear about food safety in Korea. She basically said that I should partake of the advantage of eating authentic Korea food, and, believe me, I did. Second, she told me to be on the lookout for examples of a Korean perspective about food being medicine and medicine being food.
I was not exactly clear on what she was talking about until I was meeting with some of the food safety research and development executives at the Sempio food manufacturer. I was getting a lesson in fermented soybeans to make the flavoring known as “Jang.” The uses of this “taste of Korea” are many, but here they were talking about evidence that, if fruits and vegetables are made more pleasant to eat, people will eat more of them and “Jang,” substituted for sodium-based flavorings.
They said it had to do with “food and medicine and medicine as food.” I first wondered if Dr. Song had called ahead, but then I realized they were addressing a mindset that is very much embraced by Koreans. Eating the right food means you will be taking fewer medicines.
It is all connected in a culture that has a history of mixing alternative therapy and traditional herbal medicine.
There seems to be a lot to this. Koreans, I am learning, are very picky about their food and careful about what they consume. When there is a problem with food, they want to know all they can about it. That’s why, as it turned out, I received this invitation to visit South Korea.
Korean newspapers know that their readers want to know what’s going on during any incident that might impact their food or their health. As a result, several have taken to citing reporting done by Food Safety News. So we ended up on the radar screen when South Korea decided to extend this invitation to come visit.
We’ve learned a number of things during this short visit. Among them are how food safety is shaping market opportunities and how trust is shaping trade. More on all of this will be coming in the week ahead in our news columns.
I do want to use this forum to thank Kris Yoon and Wendy Yoo from Communications Korea and JD Kim at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for being my tour guides all week. I literally would have been lost without each of them. With their help, I was able to cover a lot of ground fast.
With 10 million people and the fourth-richest metropolitan economy in the world (after New York City, Los Angeles, and Tokyo), Seoul is one those places that just leaves one on sensory overload. It would take some serious tourist time to take it all in.
I think I will probably come back and do that someday soon. But this time, it’s been all work, and we’ll be sharing what we learned very shortly.© Food Safety News