Seaweed Saves

In In The News on April 6, 2011 at 8:49 pm

It’s April.  The first of the early cherry blossoms are opening.  Spring is in the air.  And so is radiation.

The fallout of Japan’s nuclear reactor crisis has crept into Korean airspace, with confirmed reports of airborne radioactive material found in the atmosphere.  Of course, as soon as this information reaches the ears of the average citizen, no more details are required.  Panic ensues.   The fact that this material is yet too microscopic to pose any health risk at all is entirely irrelevant.  Air equals poison.

Whilst this new revelation has not outwardly appeared to disrupt the day to day Korean grind, there are subtle signs of the inner conscience of the collective.  When it comes to toxins, diseases, and their relationship to food, Koreans are downright savvy.  If you are in country and have tried to buy a bottle of  “Sam Da Soo” water lately, you may notice it is plum sold out.  This water is from the springs of Jeju Island, and as such is considered to be the purest in water form.  In the wake of this latest nuclear scare, all other waters are now thought to be inferior and untrustworthy.

The Korea Herald also reported that the recent radiation fears have boosted seaweed and dried kelp sales, as it said to protect against the poison.  I’m of two minds as to how this information spread.  Either the knowledge that seaweed protects against radiation poisoning is as common as kimchi, or it was reported on the news.  The concept that the news may be wrong or untrustworthy has not exactly caught on here, and whatever airs on that little box at 7pm is out of the mouths of the highest power.  Just mention the words “fan death” (the belief that if you sleep in a room with a fan on, windows and door closed, you will die) and you will see the power the newsmedia has on public knowledge.  Such a conversation is a frustrating argument in its futility.

Health concerns are among the highest on the Korean agenda.  Medical tests are required for just about everything, from jobs to marriage.  Public school teachers are required to submit a medical check every 3 months, and E2 visas still require a controversial battery of tests.  Food contamination warnings are often issued in the summertime, stating food must not be left out for too long on hot days.   Not to mention the fact that everything you eat has some kind of targeted health benefit, whether it be for a man’s stamina or a woman’s skin.

When it comes to a international health crisis, concern usually hits fever pitch (pardon the pun).  During the H1N1 pandemic, schools were closed, international visitors were quarantined, and foreigners arriving on Korean soil around that time were treated with suspicion, with or without presentation of symptoms.  An American friend at the time was told by a middle aged Korean woman that foreigners were more likely to contract the virus, as they do not eat kimchi daily, and are as a result susceptible.  I recall my own first introduction to kimchi as being prefaced as ”A cure for SARS’.  This kind of unscientific and unfounded claim is by no means held by all Koreans, especially not the younger generation, but it still exists.

Japan plans to release nuclear waste into the sea, which has sparked further apprehensions from the peninsula that it may reach Korean territory.  Radiation poisoning may not be a cause for total panic yet, but if you’re after some dried seaweed or Jeju spring water these days, you may have a fight on your hands.





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