Thursday, October 07, 2010

Climate Change and the Kimchi Crisis

Yesterday, I linked to my new article on climate change and the poor.

Today, we see one of the manifestations of how climate change will affect the poor--higher food prices. The Napa cabbage shortage in Korea, which is the main ingredient for kimchi, is probably short-term. And it's being portrayed as somewhat humorous given Koreans' devotion to this difficult food (which in full disclosure I absolutely love). But this is the beginning of a long-term trend. A terrible year of extreme climate decimated the cabbage crop in Korea--extreme spring cold, crazy hot summer, devastating fall rains. This is the template for food shortages. And the cost:

An unusually long stretch of bad weather nearly halved the latest cabbage crop, causing prices to soar. At markets in Seoul, shoppers were up before dawn fighting to buy heads of napa cabbage that once cost about $4 but now go for as much as $14.

In the short-term, Koreans can import cabbage from China. But in the long-term, these sorts of climate-change related agricultural failures will create real challenges for the world. 

On an unrelated note, for a such an industrialized and modern country, I'm amazed at how many Koreans still make their own kimchi:

South Koreans consume an estimated 1.45 million tons of kimchi a year, said Lee Jeong-sik, an official at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. About 450,000 tons of it is made at factories, and the rest at homes or by restaurants.

Though the mouth-scorching dish can be readily bought in stores, many people make it on their own at home — a laborious process that requires it to be stored and fermented during the winter months. Many homes have special kimchi refrigerators that regulate temperatures to maintain the preferred level of fermentation.

Few peoples in the world have such devotion to a particular food as Koreans do for kimchi, but this is pretty remarkable. What's the equivalent in the U.S.--could we survive a shortage of Cheetos?