Thursday, December 16, 2010

Campaign to Globalize Korean Food

In 2008, the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFAFF) launched an international campaign to make Korean food one of the top five international cuisines by 2017. The initiative was unveiled by MIFAFF Minister Chang Tae-pyong at the 2008 Korea Food Exposition. The effort aims to increase the number of Korean restaurants overseas to 40,000. "The foundation will be in charge of charting strategies and implementing programs to make home-grown cuisine popular worldwide" he said. One of the first stages of this campaign seeks to unify the names of Korean food in order to bring more consistency and clarity to foreigners. Chang's top priority is to standardize and improve the inherent quality of Korean food. He hopes to execute this through research, refinement and marketing. MIFAFF, a cabinet-level division of the South Korean government, has invested heavily in research; several state-run agencies have been appointed to analyze the key ingredients in Korean food, such as "kimchi", "deonjang" (soy bean paste) and "gochujang" (chili paste). Chang also noted that "culture is inseparable from cuisine" -- he believes that interior design and tableware is critical to the global marketing of Korean food.
Although these efforts are presumably made with the best intentions, the proceedings have aquired a considerable amount of discontent. Joe McPherson, journalist from Hi Seoul, an online travel website for Korea published an article that outlines some of the dangers to this plan.
"A manager for one major Korean restaurant group admitted that it is common for upper management in corporations and the government to create grand schemes. They either don't listen to constructive criticism, or their underlings are too timid to give their feelings. This has spawned some embarrassing public blunders and awkward slogans and has even angered some of the target consumers." McPherson finds that tourists in Korea are not impressed by the "white tablecloth restaurants", but rather, are most enchanted by the rustic restaurants that serve home-style, comfort food. He argues that Chang's approach is too "one-size-fits-all" and that it should be more inclusive of Korea's demographics and traditions. He writes, "[t]he promoters of Korean food globalization need to shirk off the upper class pretension. Korea's rustic traditions are its strengths, not embarrassments. It needs a multi-pronged approach that targets hardcore foodies, casual diners and people on the go. It also needs to actually be based on market research and not an imperial fantasy of global conquest. Ask what people want. Don't force it down their throats. Korean cuisine will become popular, whether anyone promotes it or not. Yet it takes long-term planning, actual market research and realistic goals to make Korean food stick as a favorite and not fade as a fad." With many dissenting views on properly globalizing Korean food, these next seven years will be an exciting turning point for Korean cuisine in the international food scene.