Photo: Meals of two people over three days. The menu is the same every day - kimchi, beans and rice for one, noodles with sugar for the other. Credit: Kukmin Ilbo.
From September 12 to October 1, Kukmin Ilbo 국민일보 ran a seven-part visual interactive series titled The Table of the Poor 빈자의 식탁, a vivid look at the eating lives of South Korea’s poorest. The series, Kukmin Ilbo’s first attempt at a web interactive series, showed pictures of the daily meals of 13 individuals and analyzed their diet.
Some ate essentially the same meal every day, provided by welfare services and charity organizations. Some had instant ramen twice a day, every day. A nutritionist estimated their daily caloric intake was on average 40% lower than necessary. Fresh food is in short supply; one elderly woman recalled that the last fruit she had was a watermelon, five years ago.
The pandemic made food distribution more difficult, as community kitchens had to close and replace freshly cooked food with processed meal deliveries. The series concluded with recommendations for a larger welfare budget dedicated to food aid - current budget is just KRW 3.5k (USD 3) per meal - and more customized options for the elderly with weak teeth, diabetes and other health issues.