Why is Korean food cheaper than Western?

Why is the Korean menu at our cafeteria cheaper than the Western menu? It’s something we’ve all accepted as a given, but it presents no obvious answer. Like, why do Japanese Ramen cost 500 won more than Jjajang Rice?

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Since the displacement of JJ catering, Hyundai food has been able to execute better quality of food than JJ did (in my personal opinion). There’s always three choices of food during lunch, and it is always an indecision for most people. Whether it’s the quality, the quantity of the food, or the length of the line, everyone’s choice was impersonal and varied. Yet, the cost of the food was invariable: Korean meal being 4800 won while Western meal being 5300 won. Despite the 500 won difference, it was important for us to discover the truth behind the costs.

Throughout our research, we faced multiple leading questions: Which food was more popular? Which food was easier to make? Which food consisted of minimal materials? It even led us to question if there was a bias between Korean and Western from the lunch ladies. Western cuisines may be harder for the lunch ladies to cook. However, these factors did not come into the calculations of costs according to the KIS Hyundai Food management. Specifically, they appointed the factor of disparity between the costs, simply, as ingredients.

Historically, Korea has had a reliance on foreign capital and foreign resources for its modernization, beginning with projects like the Saemaul Movement or even the Miracle on the Han. So it’s no surprise that the Korean economy, specifically in regards to agriculture, is largely dependent on import. Bananas. Salmon. Tomato. None of these are native to Korea, and yet they’re all ubiquitous in any supermarket.

Only prominent for its fertilized food and rice, Korea lacked agriculture of major ingredients to our daily meals, prompting them to import foreign goods in order to meet the population demand. Korea has initiated 45 free trade agreements, effectively connecting it with 70% of the world economy, and our trade deficit for agri-food and seafood as of 2017 is 21 billion USD. So when you eat that spaghetti or burger, chances are, it’s all imported, at possibly a marginally higher cost than the Korean Cuisines. Although the servings for Korean menu may be larger than those of Western food, the cost of the imports for the ingredients in Western food still outweighs the that of ingredients for Korean dishes.

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Lunch probably is the favorite time of the period for most of the people. What we eat in lunch decides how we are going to spend the second half of the day. There’s always three menus, prompting us to think for at least a minute or two. So, what’s a better choice? We can’t be sure. But that 500 won could be a waste of money or a significant boost in your day. It’s always up to you.

-Mark Park (’20) (Co-written with Charles Park)

Featured Image: KIS Website

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