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Memories of non-nutritious food around schools

Posted March. 23, 2013 01:47,   


In elementary school days in the past, stationery stores were usually bustling with students after school. Students rushed to eat snacks such as "hotteok," or Korean rice pancake, and fish balls with their pocket money. Teachers usually told them not eat unhealthy food but eating such food was fun after school without teachers around. Children had difficulty resisting the temptation to buy instantly baked red bean-stuffed bread with flour paste streamed from a kettle. Ice cream and ice bars from unknown makers also made children happy with their cool and sweet flavor. For children who could not afford to buy cookies made by large confectionary companies such as Lotte, Haitai and Crown, such street foods were not considered substandard but rather “food for the working class.”

What was eaten around stationary stores in front of schools also changed with time. The hot dog was a latecomer to the scene, but partially because of its strange name, it soon became the most popular snack food. Children spent every cent they had on it. These days, they buy snacks at a fastfood restaurant to mark their birthdays, but just to get a hot dog from a friend in the good old days was a real treat. Naturally, hygiene was hardly the best but few people remember suffering stomachaches. Though they were tiny stores, a kind of trust existed between the owners and students that unhygienic snacks would not be sold.

The Korea Food and Drug Administration held a briefing for President Park Geun-hye Thursday saying it will ban stationery stores around schools from selling food. If caught making and selling unsanitary food, a violator will face a fine of 10 times the sales volume. Authorities have also toughened punishment by lengthening the prison term for violators. The briefing came as the president in her election campaign called unsanitary food as one of the four major vices she would root out, along with sexual, domestic and school violence.

The general consensus favors designating the three kinds of violence as social vices and stepping up efforts to root them out, but critics ask if unsanitary food has the same degree of vice as the other three. Stationary stores around schools are neighborhood businesses run by self-employed merchants. Producers of street food are mom-and-pop stores, and distributors are also small business owners. None other than most Koreans` parents worked hard at their tiny stores in a district crowded with stationary stores to feed and raise their children and give them a college education. So there is criticism against the government drive to pressure and force out small stationery stores around schools in an era when the use of narcotics, tobacco and alcohol is rampant. The crackdown on unhygienic food is not a problem, but the government should not pressure stationery stores. A better alternative is to inspect the safety and hygienic conditions of food sold at stationary stores and enable them to survive.

Editorial Writer Choi Yeong-hae (yhchoi65@donga.com)