Food for Thought

It is typical of Korean students and teachers to receive lunch at school. Coming from Canada, this is a new concept to me. Only my high school had a cafeteria, and they only served a few options that were rarely purchased–overcooked burgers, soggy pasta, pizza dripping with grease, and the like. Nothing short of obesity-inducing meals and carb-comas crashing down on afternoon classes. For the most part, students brought lunches from home, didn’t eat at all, or starting in high school, went to one of the fast food places across the street from school.

Not only am I thrilled to not have to worry about bringing a lunch everyday, I’m also glad to see a system where students have access to healthy and nutritious food throughout the day! My elementary school back home was at the forefront of schools installing snack programs for underprivileged students to access some nutrition throughout the day. Although created with the best intentions, it fell short of being enough and had a tendency to single out poorer students and was thus severely underutilized. If my food justice learning has taught me anything, its that we need proper nutrition throughout the day to thrive as learners—especially children.

Basic nutrition aside, I was warned that since I’m teaching in a big school, the food might be sub-par in taste. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food! Today we had tukgok, one of my favourite Korean soups. It is always served for the new year, but its also common to eat it throughout the year. It’s typically made with rich brisket broth, rice cakes, and egg.

Tukguk on the bottom right. So tasty.

Perhaps the warnings about food were the result of picky eating. The Korean teachers at my school seem to be rather impressed that I eat everything, and enjoy it at that (I’ll admit its been a little hard to transition from vegetarian of 3+ years to eating meat everyday. But I don’t want to starve, so I will attempt to make peace with the environment in other ways). A few days ago my co-teacher SJ was amazed that I was eating seun-dae, a Korean style sausage. I said I really enjoyed it, and she remarked that none of the other foreign teachers would eat it because it was made with pig intestine. Okay, I didn’t know that, but I had already eaten most of it and it tasted too good not to finish!

Seun-dae in the top left corner, battered and fried which is not the traditional way to eat it, but is supposedly more appetizing for the kids.

The students also receive milk every morning–usually plain but sometimes flavoured, like chocolate or strawberry. Each morning one student from each class grabs a milk crate stacked with little milk cartons and brings it up to class. I am seriuosly impressed by how strong some of these students are. All of the food–milk and lunches–is paid for by the students’ families. I am told though, that it is very affordable.

Now of course, I’m speaking completely from my own experiences in this post–both in my reflections of food in Canada and in my school in Korea. So, take this with a grain of salt. I’m sure there are other schools with completely different foodscapes that do not reflect what I talk about in this post.

Some spaghetti managed to sneak into our lunch. Not as good as the Korean food.

This was our Chuseok meal. Mmmm rice cakes.

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