How Well Do You Know Your Food Source?

Today as I was heating up my lunch, miyook gook (seaweed soup), I was thinking about where the ingredients came from. Seaweed and kelp, low-sodium soy sauce, and sesame oil from Korea, memmi sauce from Japan, green-lipped mussels from New Zealand, sea salt from France, and from the U.S., the ingredients that went into making the chicken stock—organic chicken, garlic, ginger, celery, onion, carrot. (But I’m not 100% sure on the ginger—it could be Thailand.) It just amazes me—that our times allow us to consume foods beyond our immediate community and to reach across both oceans.

In Korea, miyook gook is commonly eaten on your birthday or if you’d just given birth. It’s a health food—low fat, high fiber, chockfull of vitamins and minerals, and very rich in flavor. After I had given birth to the Princess five years ago (almost six), my mom had me eat so much miyook gook, that I couldn’t stand the smell of it. But at the time, it helped with the healing and nursing—so all was not in vain.

I’ve only just started being able to eat it again. I prepared some last night for my MIL who was having her 74th birthday, but she had already eaten some in the morning prepared by my SIL, and not surprisingly, wasn’t interested in eating it for dinner.

Traditionally in Korean recipes for miyook gook, beef broth is used. My recipe is different—instead of beef broth, I use the homemade chicken broth that I always seem to have handy. In the past my mom would add dried anchovies (for more calcium, says she), but to me, it’s not so appetizing to see little fishes floating in the soup (more calcium isn’t a good enough reason for me). Nowadays, she makes a cleaner looking broth by boiling the anchovies with the meat and taking them out before combining the broth and seaweed. My mom also adds in mussels to her miyook gook to add more flavors of the sea. I like to do that as well.

Most Westerners don’t realize the prevalence of seaweed in our food and household products. If you see carrageenan listed in the ingredients, that’s the Westerner’s palatable term for seaweed. It’s used as a flavor enhancer, preservative, thickening agent, stabilizer, and more. Among the items that contain carrageenan are non-dairy creamer, beer, processed meats, toothpaste, shoe polish, shampoo, desserts (like Hostess cupcakes), and diet sodas.

Anyway, upon stepping on the scale today, I noticed that I dropped a couple of pounds. It made me think—hmmm…maybe I should eat a bit more seaweed. I definitely prefer it to salad.

But then I started thinking, “How well do I know my food source?” I hate to say it, but nowadays I’m a bit leery about believing everything I read about where food claims to be from or is. I’d like to believe organic means it’s clean, not treated with chemicals/pesticides/antibiotics/hormones, not genetically modified and zapped of its natural flavors, and raised in the best possible environment possible. But then I read about the FDA coming up with all these subcategories for “organic,” giving some companies slack on what they can call “organic” and justify a higher price point.

In shopping for Asian foods, I learned my lesson earlier on about not believing everything I read—at least, the English translations of the ingredients. I had a couple of incidences where I had given something to the Princess, and she had a major allergic reaction to it, even though the packaging didn’t indicate that there was dairy or nut in it. But it turns out, in the Korean version, it was spelled out. (Unfortunately, my 1.5 years of Korean classes at Korean church wasn’t enough to help me pick up everything).

I also hate to say it, but nowadays, when I see food items that say “Made in China” or if I pick up something that most likely seems like it could be from China, I end up walking away. The news media isn’t helping much in terms of fostering a better feeling towards food items from China—especially not with stories about the melamine contamination, or about the air and water pollution that’s affecting its neighbors as well, or stories about bird flu/pandemics, and more. In addition, I learned that some Korean companies have been doing the “bait and switch,” that is, importing cheaper products from China and putting their labels on it and say the products are from Korea instead. So, who can we trust?

Anyway, I’d love to support my local farms. If only they can raise the produce that are used in Korean cooking…

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