The “Kimchi Crisis”: Bringing to Light Our Own Dependency on the Environment

Written by Plant With Purpose on October 22, 2010 in General

By: Brittany Sheppard, PR & Events Intern

Kimchi (noun): a traditional South Korean delicacy most commonly prepared by fermenting Napa cabbage in white radish, garlic, and chili paste seasoning.

For most South Koreans, this national dish is considered a daily treat; so beloved is it that it is served for free in many local restaurants in South Korea. However many South Koreans are finding their kimchi fix to be more difficult to satisfy these days, as there has been a recent spike in the price of the main kimchi ingredient, cabbage. A shortage in cabbage occurred back in September after unusual torrential rains and resulting floods wiped out nearly half of South Korea’s cabbage crop. Now the price of a head of cabbage has gone up from an acceptable $2.50 to $14.00, making cabbage that much harder to obtain, and kimchi that much harder to produce. While some die-hard kimchi fans resolve to pay the $14.00, others find consolation in eating other varieties of kimchi, which substitute radish or green onion for cabbage. Meanwhile, the government has temporarily abolished tariffs on Chinese cabbage to gain an alternative source.

While I myself am not addicted to this spicy snack, I can relate to going to the grocery store and readily accepting to pay a little more than usual for the basics, such as bread, when prices go up. It will not occur to me that maybe the price in bread has been bumped due to a sudden decline in wheat production. Like some South Koreans who can pay more for their kimchi or find loopholes in Chinese imported cabbage, I find myself unconsciously side-stepping environmental issues that occur on the farming level, a level that I am so far removed from here in my San Diegan suburban world. Our Executive Director, Scott Sabin, addresses the significance of this realization in his book, Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People:

“Affluent Americans have been shielded from the consequences of our environmental decisions. If water is scarce or contaminated, we can pay to pipe it across the country and purify it. If soil is degraded, we can pay for fertilizers and amendments…The cost of seafood may go up, but we can still find out favorite delicacies—or they’ll be replaced by substitutes from another part of the world, and before long we’ll have forgotten the difference. Because many of us are buffered from direct feedback, we tend to forget that the environment is our life-support system.” Page 88

The case of the “kimchi crisis” in South Korea brings to light the dependency we have on our environment, a fact that is oftentimes obscured by the lack of direct contact we have with it, despite all that it provides us.

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