Sunday, August 7, 2011

Health Food

Sometimes on blogs you see the topic of food. Which country's food is more healthy, America or Korea? I'm going to posit that it is possible to eat much more healthily in America than in Korea, but when you compare what people in to two country's actually eat, I'd say that Koreans in general eat more healthily.

If I stuck to a diet of only my mother-in-law's food, I'm pretty sure that I could shed some pounds. Since I came to Korea the first time, I gained about 20 pounds. I think there are a few reasons for that though.

1. I can actually afford to feed myself nowadays.
2. I don't have a car. If I want to drink some beer, I don't have to worry about getting a D.U.I. dieing in a car accident.
3. My job in America was Taekwondo instructor. My job was literally to exercise every day. When I first started working at the middle school that I quit last March, I started a job where I would stand around for a while and then surf the internet for four or five hours.

In general the diet that a lot of Koreans eat - rice, soup, and vegetables is probably more healthy than what a lot of people in America eat. I'm not going to try to quantify the typical American diet, because America is a beautiful country where people from everywhere lives, and there is no typical American food. A lot of Korean people try to paint Americans as people who eat three squares of hamburgers and steak, but to be fair, I have read some blogs that criticized Korean mothers for feeding their only white rice. There may be people like that, but it has been my experience that people generally add barley, millet, brown rice, or beans to add some fiber. A few years I went on a diet where I would make rice like that, and I lost weight pretty effectively. Barley and rice is a wonderful combination, also studies have found that brown rice lowers blood sugar levels. However, it can be difficult to wolf down a bowl of dry brown rice, so you can add white rice for moisture.

What has surprised me about health food here, though, is not the typical diet of what people eat, it is the bizarre choices that some people label as "healthy."

I'm not talking about dog soup or big bowls of broth and boiled chickens. I am literally talking about things that have oddly been designated as "well being."

For instance, there is a don ggass chain around my house that calls it's self "health food." There is no fucking way that you can call a deep fried pork chop "well being." Ddon ggass is pretty delicious, but if you want to diet, you should probably just stick to the mound of rice and the cabbage salad that comes with the meat.

It doesn't stop there. Today I was watching a show called, "Korea's Got Talent." One of the acts on the show was a group of elementary school kids who did a highly choreographed cheer leading dance. A prologue to the performance was an interview with one of the kid's mom's or coaches who was showing the healthy diet that gave the kids so much energy. This consisted of ham and cheese sandwiches and some fried spam. What the hell?

This shouldn't come as any surprise though. These kids were way too good at what they did to be some kind of amateur operation. They seemed to be some kind of performance team like the Chinese opera or something.

I had an encounter with something like that when I was in middle school. A team of elementary and middle school kids were hosted by my Taekwondo school to do a Taekwondo demo. About 20 kids went on an America tour and went everywhere from Las Vegas to Kalamazoo, Michigan. My family put up about 5 of these kids for two or three nights. This was a step up from sleeping in a gymnasium in Las Vegas one night....

But anyway fast forward about ten years. The first time I came to Korea, I competed at an international competition/festival in Jincheon. While I was there I ran into one of the kids who stayed in my house. At this time he was a university student, and he was on the Korean national demonstration team. His job for the team was to run and jump off of somebodies arms, do a back flip and then break some boards. I think he also had to wear a blindfold and break some boards with a back flip kick too.

After the tournament, my instructor got me into this high school where kids like the ones who stayed at my house trained. Like most high level athletes, these kids would have to eat a lot of calories per day. I happened to visit them on their vacation so I didn't get the full training schedule that they got - 7 hours of kicking per day - I managed to squeak through with five. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays these kids would eat four meals per day. In the morning they would have standard Korean breakfast. For lunch, they would eat in the school cafeteria. For dinner, they would have some kind of Korean meal, but after the night training, they would have a midnight snack. The snacks could be : milk, bananas, and egg sandwiches or A whole pizza or even a box of doughnuts and coke.

I understand supplementing calories, but I really don't see the competitive edge in eating a whole pizza and a box of doughnuts. Maybe the pizza and doughnuts had nothing to do with health. Maybe it was about motivation. The life of Korean students can be kind of shitty. The lives that these Taekwondo kids lived seemed pretty hard to me. It was definitely painful and quite frightening. Their coach was kind a psychopath. They had another teacher who was a total drunk, a nice guy, but he scared me one night when I had to escort him up from the seaside to an area where the students had congregated. Upon seeing the kids he immediately made them assume a stress position where they had to support their weight on their heads and feet, on concrete, but that is a different story.

Anyway, I have this wonderful book called The Very Best of Recipes for Health. This book is a compilation of recipes from the New York Times in the series, "Recipes for Health." This book is awesome. The pictures are beautiful, and the food is delicious. I've made about five things out of the book, and most of them have been home runs. While I think that eating Korean style is indeed healthy, there are a lot of foods that simply don't exist here. Since I moved here I have developed a liking for oatmeal.

Oatmeal is not impossible to find, but it is kind of like going to a speakeasy to get the stuff. And when you do find it, a $2 cylinder of Quaker oats costs 15000 won. My marvelous cookbook has this wonderful section on quinoa. I sure would like to try quinoa some time, I'll have to change continents for it though.

It's not all bad though. Seafood here is abundant. Last Monday took my bike 400 meters west and bought a live halibut. It was 25,000 won, but the lady skinned it and cut it into filets. Then I took the filets and botched a recipe for poached fish. That's okay though because I have the bones and head, my wife can make maeoontang.

Well that's it. I really need to learn how to write better conclusions. But I'll leave you all with a lead on oatmeal and big blocks of cheese.

If you live in Korea and want to order some hard to find yummies, or ham that tastes like ham, go to The delivery system is a little slow, but payment is easy for foreigners because it is a simple atm transfer. No personal I.D. number needed.


Flint said...

The whole well being craze has led to some pretty unhealthy food being labelled healthy. Mind you it is hard to surf the channels on the TV here (Canada) and not see someone shilling some product or service that is supposed to make you healthy.

I tried cooking with quinoa and while it was ok it wasn't something I would go out of my way to make again. I blame my technique though. I may try again sometime.

3gyupsal said...

My book has some stuff about making risotto with it. Interestingly enough, though, the demand for quinoa by granola people in the states has pushed the price up in the Andes where it is harvested. A strange case of vegetarian/vegan folks hurting poor people.