[Viewpoin]Life, liberty and the pursuit of beef

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[Viewpoin]Life, liberty and the pursuit of beef

If we compare Korean society to a rainbow, it is a rainbow that has lost all its colors, except red and violet. The orange, yellow, green, blue and navy in the middle have disappeared. With the spectrum ruined, only red and violet remain, violently confronting each other.

Media outlets attack other media outlets and civic groups thrust fingers of blame at other civic groups. Even media studies scholars who specialize in communication are divided.

A pastor can no longer just be called a pastor, and a priest can no longer just be called a priest. We have to first ask their position on the beef issue in order to identify them.

A lawyer is also no longer just a lawyer, in a profession that used to be enviable. We have to first ask what the lawyer thinks about beef or the use of metal pipes in protests.

Journalists, scholars, religious people and businessmen, equivalent to the orange, yellow, green, blue and navy of a rainbow’s spectrum, recently appear to be feeling intimidated by the bloodshot eyes of the red and violet people. At least, that was what I used to think.

But that wasn’t the real story. My thinking was too short-sighted. The middle colors of the rainbow’s spectrum were still up and coming.

On Wednesday, I visited a U.S. beef outlet store in Siheung-dong, Geumcheon District, Seoul. The visit was half out of journalistic responsibility, half out of curiosity.

Three days after sales of U.S. beef resumed, the store was extremely busy. Customers waited in line and floods of phone calls were being answered in an inner office.

“Are you coming from Suwon? Then, take this bus and get off at the Geumcheon District Office,” one employee said into his headset. “Are you using subway Line 1? Then, get off at Siheung Station and take the local commuter bus ...” another told a customer on the other end of the line.

A group of five housewives in their 60s said they had come to the store after being tipped off about it by a friend. They said they had walked 20 minutes to get there.

Asked what they thought about the risk of mad cow disease, one of them responded, “Do you think the president allowed the imports to kill people by making them eat beef?”

Another said, “This is the time for us to eat some beef. Otherwise, when can we have a feast?”

An elderly man said, “Those who want to eat it should eat it, and those who don’t want to shouldn’t.” Another customer chimed in, saying, “I’m paying with my money to eat this beef, so why is it anyone else’s business? I will take care of my own health.”

Some were more timid. As a journalist snapped some photos in the store, a woman in her 20s said, “Please make sure my face will not be published.”

The store was located in a dark corner of a small alley. A security guard at a nearby apartment complex said, “It’s like I have two jobs now, because I have to help so many people asking how to get there.”

On Tuesday, a civic group held a press conference in front of this butcher shop, demanding that it stop selling American beef. The group members also wrangled with store employees. But the customers didn’t stop coming, even though the shop had to close for a short period.

In front of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday, an event took place to declare a boycott of U.S. beef and to block its sale. I, however, think the protesters are mistaken.

Those who do not want to eat U.S. beef have every right to boycott the product. However, trying to block its sale violates the rights of other customers who are paying with their own money to eat this beef.

The government recently expanded the product origin labeling system. It would be more productive if the protesters put their energy into monitoring the beef sales process or checking for fake labeling for hanwoo (Korean beef). But they probably aren’t interested in such activities.

I have no intention to speak for the butcher shop in Siheung-dong, but the right of the store owner to do business must be respected. The shop had an interesting motto on its wall. It said, “Do it your own way.”

Consumers must make their own decision about eating U.S. beef. The government, of course, must thoroughly manage the import and sales process. Inspections must be particularly thorough on meals for which consumers can not choose where the meat comes from, such as school and military meals and hamburger patties.

With such monitoring in place, no one should be able to interfere with other people’s right to eat.

Koreans are now armed with expert knowledge and detailed opinions about beef. While society is split, the people sandwiched in the middle have been quietly observing the situation and weighing whether or not they should eat American beef.

Let’s respect one other’s right to choose. The freedom to put what we want on our dinner tables is as important as the safety of the food on the table.


*The writer is the senior culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun
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