Meal service merits and demerits
The older generation who experienced the Korean War may also become part of the first generation to receive group meal services. Older people ate the original version of budae jjigae, or “Army base stew,” which has since become a popular dish at restaurants. The stew was made with leftovers from restaurants on U.S. Army bases. Sometimes, the sausages would have obvious bite marks, but no one cared because food was so scarce.
Surprisingly, more than 25 percent of the population, or one in four people, eat more than one meal a day through meal services. According to a report on nutritional management by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, 13.91 million people eat more than one meal a day through a meal service. The biggest benefit of these meal services is balanced nutritional intake. It is a glorious accomplishment attained only 60 years after the Korean War.
Meal services are likely to expand even further in the near future, based on the talk of free breakfasts at schools. The Democratic United Party’s general election promises include free school meals with eco-friendly menus. It is an expanded version of its previous concept for free universal school meals. At this point, however, we also need to think about how to maintain the balance between quality and quantity. Schools are already concerned that the cost of offering free school meals will be detrimental to other programs. Dietitians are struggling to offer healthy menus made of expensive eco-friendly ingredients on a limited budget.
Despite the many merits of meal services, the biggest problem is uniformity. At a certain point, dietary restrictions should be considered. Let’s consider the children from multiethnic families, a growing population. A child form a Muslim family does not eat pork and only eats halal beef and chicken prepared according to Islamic custom. As the Jewish population grows, there will be a need for a kosher menu prepared according to the Jewish custom. And how will meal services respond to the needs of vegetarians? Of course, it would be a waste of money to customize menus to accommodate personal preferences. Nevertheless, school meal programs need to be created with consideration for religion and food allergies. I believe that these programs should be more concerned with offering the right meals to a poor Muslim child from a Pakistani family than providing free food to a student from a high-income family.
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun