Thou shalt not steal Napa cabbages. Even for Kimchi.

Oct 11, 2010

A little late on this one, but there's been much (and often tongue-in-cheek) coverage of the "Kimchi crisis" in South Korea. Originally beginning with bad harvests, the issue is now high prices and hoarding (similar story: earlier post explaining the wheat crisis).

"A shortage of Napa cabbage, the main ingredient in the spicy dish, is causing prices to soar, fights to break out, and government subsidies.

Seeking an immediate substitute, the government temporarily suspended tariffs on Chinese-imported cabbage and other produce this week, part of a plan to rush an additional 100 tons of the staple into supermarkets and stores. The Seoul city government, meanwhile, is providing the busiest markets with 300,000 heads of Napa cabbage at just 70 percent of the market price — enough to feed 10,000 households..." (NPR article)

"...When the municipal authority of one rural town announced that it would sell cheap packets of cabbage in brine, its website was inundated with inquiries and crashed. Last week a group of men was arrested for trying to steal 400 cabbages in rural Gangwon province...." (Economist article)

It's fascinating how much societies value certain foods, not just for subsistence but also for cultural traditions. This exhibits yet another factor that usual discussions of "food security" fail to capture, as well as the important (and potentially destructive) role speculative markets can play in constricting/distorting access to food...