Thursday, November 13, 2008

Costco, helping to redefine eating habits around the world

For the most part, since arriving a few weeks ago, I have not been too surprised that Koreans look so healthy and fit. Their diet seems to consist mainly of different pickled vegetables, others raw or steamed and covered in spicy sauce, plenty of seafood, and little meat. Well, every so often Koreans will go to a "Korean bbq" where you sit and grill up your own beef and pork, eating pretty much nonstop meat for at least a half hour. You can eat the meat on its own right off the grill (which is set into your table), or wrap it in Chinese cabbage with a bit of garlic and/or hot pepper sauce if you wish. Eating at such a place is not done too often by the average folk as meat is quite expensive here, with Korean beef being the most expensive contrary to the logic.

Elizabeth and I heard there was a Costco only a couple stops away, so after one failed attempt, we set out again the other night and found it with ease after stopping in at a Dunkin Donuts and asking the cashier who impressed her boss when she was able to pull out "down one block and take left". It ended up being a right, but all we needed was the general direction and distance, the sign isn't too subtle. Besides being split into three levels with long sloping moving walkways connecting the floors (the carts have automatic brakes that stop the cart from moving), prices being double or triple for "American" things, and specialized products catering to local tastes, it is quite similar to the US stores.

What is such a store going to do to the tastes and eating habits of the Koreans who choose or can afford to shop at Costco? Despite bulk-size bags of snickers, M&M's and other American candies costing huge amounts of money, they seemed to be filling many carts. Maybe they were stocking up for the year, though I don't think the kids eying them were going to allow the stash to last that long. When it's so easy to buy mass quantities of candy and numerous different less than healthy frozen foods and whatever else, it seems like eating vegetables and seafood and fresh, healthy items is going to taste a bit different, or at least be less tempting to shop for and cook. It's probably idealistic or something to think that Korean culture won't be changed, I just wish it didn't have to be made so tempting the way Costco makes it. And, does it matter if the culture changes? As much as I enjoyed being able to buy some things (that weren't extravagantly priced), I felt kind of weird shopping at Costco in Korea, a place I came knowing things would be different and wanting to deal with it. I'm sure Koreans will always enjoy their traditional foods, though maybe not on the same level as before. So much fat to be consumed from Costco, hopefully there's enough kimchi to keep it from adding on. Going back a few sentences, maybe people just choose what they want without considering the cost too much, but it doesn't seem like that many people can afford to do that, especially with the economy having taken such a plunge recently.
Elizabeth and I eat lunch at school every day as it's brought in and served to the kindergarteners and the teachers are fed as well, given they sit in a classroom and supervise to make sure no 5-year-old food fights break-out. The main component is definitely the rice which the school makes with a small bean that gives the rice a dark purplish color. There is a different variety of 3-4 side dishes each day, many of them fish or octopus based and the others being cold vegetables in various forms and in various sauces. In restaurants as well, the dishes are mainly the same with seafood or dumplings being a special addition. Cheese is hardly used, though egg is popular in a fair number of things. Writing about all this food is making me hungry, we gotta get home and eat some left-over spaghetti! It's almost 10:00 already! Tomorrow we're celebrating Thanksgiving with the kindergarten kids and I've been made the "master of ceremonies" it seems, yay? I've been charged with giving a brief history of the holiday and then leading everyone in a prayer. Elizabeth and I were both in charge of coming up with two games, so we are going to play "find the turkey", which involves us hiding a little turkey (which Elizabeth so creatively made) and the kids going into the room and finding it! The other game is pin the feathers on the turkey, both totally original ;-)

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