[Outlook]Much ado about nothingI am writing this column with a very sad and shattered feeling. That is because I have a high chance of getting the human equivalent of mad cow disease.
From 2003 to 2006, I lived in the United States as a correspondent in Washington, D.C. While there, I ate as much beef as I wanted. In Korea, beef is not a food that salary earners like me can enjoy every day, so I took a chance and ate as much beef as I could while living in the United States.
I also bought cow bones and made soup with them. I seasoned the soup with salt and green onions and drank it, or put rice and noodles in it and ate the meal with kimchi. I ate cow tail bones, too.
I didn’t know at the time that it was dangerous to eat U.S. beef. Quite recently I found out through Korean TV programs that Koreans are genetically susceptible to the human equivalent of mad cow. While listening to the show’s arguments, I felt weak in the knees, as though I was a cow with the disease.
Still, I don’t have that much to lose. But I feel terribly sorry and heartbroken when I remember that I also made my children eat a lot of U.S. beef. I just wanted to give them nutritious food. But was it actually poison?
It appears that in Korea, most grown-ups are foolish like me and the teenagers are the smart ones. A friend of mine told me about a daughter of his who is in her first year of middle school. When the girl’s school cafeteria served beef for lunch the other day, the students picked out the beef and only ate the rest. How smart they are!
A lady who runs a restaurant near my office that specializes in beef soup made of cow intestines complains that ever since the bizarre stories about mad cow disease started to spread, the number of customers visiting her restaurant has significantly decreased.
With mixed feelings of fear and anger, I began to think more deeply about this whole affair. Something is strange. Why do 300 million Americans say nothing about their beef if it is so dangerous? What is the Food and Drug Administration doing? Isn’t the agency famous for being strict and proud? What are The Washington Post, which has a reputation for criticizing the government, and The New York Times, known as the representative of American intellectuals, doing about this issue?
While I lived in the United States for three years, I met countless Americans and Koreans living there. But I didn’t hear any of them fretting about mad cow disease, not even once. I took my time going through my memory and I am very sure. Nobody talked about the issue.
Korean middle school students say that American cattle are mad cows and if we consume them we will get holes in our brains. Are Americans so dumb that they don’t know what Korean teenagers do? Or has America been deceived by American farmers’ powerful lobbying?
Once I started to have doubts, there was no end to it. There is something else that’s strange. When I lived in Washington, quite a lot of Uri Party lawmakers, who were then in power, visited the city. I went to Korean restaurants with them and ate grilled beef — U.S. beef, of course. But none of them worried that the meat was dangerous because of mad cow disease. They all enjoyed the food and we had a good time.
This memory puts my mind slightly at ease. I feel somewhat relieved to know that even if I get the disease, they will too. Those politicians I ate U.S. beef with are now members of the opposition party. They are the very same people holding rallies against U.S. beef.
Maybe I should join the rallies too. Maybe it will reduce my chances of getting mad cow disease. Of course, I know this is nonsense. But Korean society is not always governed by logic or reason.
After the Roh Moo-hyun administration left office, so-called left-wing intellectuals came out and made confessions. They regretted that they misled the public with intangible slogans.
But the whole situation changed once the government decided to open the Korean beef market and chaos broke out, with teenagers taking to the streets for candlelight vigils. These teenagers are now named the new generation, with enormous power to communicate with the world. Some offered flattering praise that the youths are Korea’s hope and salvation.
I saw a middle school student holding a picket sign that reads “Lee Myung-bak, eat as much mad cow beef as you want.” It hurt my heart. Would the student talk the same way to her own grandfather? Well, let’s just forget about it. After all, they are the young generation the left-wing intellectuals are so crazy about.
But one thing is certain. If I survive I will remember the current much ado about nothing for a long time, and pass down stories of it to future generations.
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Chong-hyuk