Of Road Runners, Frying Pans and Beef Protests

The beef protests are a subject I’ve generally tried to avoid. They’ve been covered enough by people much more capable and knowledgeable than I. What unique viewpoint can I really add? However, today’s announcement that the Korean government will start to require a healthy food mark to products got me to thinking.

I’ve always thought health and calorie information on food items was a good idea. It probably stems from my creepy fascination with Teddy Roosevelt who started the FDA. Look it up, Teddy was a beast in every sense of the word. Also I think he boxed Kangaroos…or perhaps I’m simply mixing up my U.S. History with a Looney Tunes Cartoon.

Either way, I thought the announcement was odd as a quick survey of the food items in my refrigerator revealed that they all had health information on them. This leaves the very real possibility that the announcement is another in a series of government tokens granted to those who would protest U.S. Beef. Let’s call this a small win for the protestors. Looking at the bigger picture however, reveals a larger loss.

It makes sense. Through all of this I thought there was a simple solution to it all. Basically, if the Korean people in general were uncomfortable with U.S. Beef then they should simply choose not to buy it.

If there’s one lesson the American people have learned it’s that protests are only effective when they are backed up with their pocket books. Today’s announcement that U.S. Beef has been selling at high rates tells me that either Koreans have not learned this lesson or that not enough are really worried about the potential health risks when compared to the very real economic benefits.

It’s a harsh lesson in “Common Sense” economics. Money talks, protestors walk…down the streets of Jongro. Besides, the U.S. has absolutely nothing to gain from sending hazardous beef to one of its strongest Asian allies. The protests were definitely about something more than just beef.

A characteristic of the protests has been the youthful make up of them. You could argue that a younger generation has been influenced by the opposition party and you might be right. But these protests seemed larger to me. They were a coming together of a younger generation that is just starting to find its collective voice. There’s no way it was just about beef. There’s no way it was just about anything. A month long protest isn’t a single issue protest it’s a cultural protest. Organizers could not have kept support if it had been anything less.

Which is why the harsh lessons learned from this protest frighten me. In its modern format the Korean democracy has only been around for 20 or so years. Each lesson comes fast and without mercy. It’s like the time you first grabbed a hot pan off the oven and decided then and there to never do that again. Money talks is a lesson in disillusionment and Korea has too much spirit to simply decide to never grab the frying pan again.

Without the spirit they will simply become a caricature of themselves and someday in the future some blogger will confuse them with a Looney Tunes Character…the Road Runner perhaps. Which would only be suitable if they were turning the tables and using the frying pan to get back at that Coyote.

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