This article talks about vegetable shortages in Korea in December 1943, two years into an all-out war against the US. In response to widespread vegetable shortages and the proliferation of black markets, colonial authorities implemented a rationing system for vegetables, where vegetable supplies were funneled into a centralized distribution point, and then distributed to non-households (including restaurants) and households, where each person was allotted a measly vegetable ration of about 200 grams per day. The situation with eggs, meat, and fish was also dire. Not surprisingly, ordinary citizens were encouraged to grow their own food and forage for edible wild plants.
Patriotic Groups (local neighborhood cells) were in charge of vegetable rationing. The Korean Federation of National Power (国民総力朝鮮連盟, 국민총력조선연맹), the single ruling party of Japan-colonized Korea, organized these patriotic groups (愛国班, aikoku-han or aeguk-ban) to control the colonized population at the local level. Members of the cells would report each other for infractions, perhaps for breaking rules like speaking Korean in public. They would also organize ‘patriotic’ activities like worship rituals at Shinto shrines, mandatory Shinto prayer sessions twice a day, etc. Food rationing was often withheld when a cell member refused to participate in Shinto worship at shrines. Similar local cell organizations still exist in countries like Cuba and North Korea.
Gyeongseong Daily (Keijo Nippo) December 18, 1943
Selfishness leading to rotting vegetables
Dry Storage in Preparation for Winter
Tomorrow’s posture to win through to victory
A Focus on Eating Habits (2) (Vegetable Edition)
A considerable amount of daikon radishes and bok choy, which had arrived in considerable quantities during the fall and early winter for processing into pickles, has rotted away. This was due to the fact that the vegetable buying teams that were dispatched to the surrounding countryside in the fall brought in a larger quantity than expected, and the efforts by the Seoul government to collect the vegetables were betrayed by the individualistic behavior of the people of Seoul.
The fact that these bok choy and daikon radishes, which arrived at the central market everyday, were left to rot during wartime due to the lack of consumption by the consumers is an indication that it is impossible to simply sum up the situation by using the word “wasteful”.
While there was a huge surplus of these vegetables, there were still households in need of more vegetables for pickling. With these contradictions in mind, the vegetable problem was dealt with by the Seoul Central Fruit and Vegetable Corporation, the receiving agency of the Seoul government under the Korean Fruit and Vegetable Storage Regulations, and in October all vegetables were put under a strong wartime distribution system.
The 560 newly designated vegetable retailers formed blocks for each town council. While maintaining close relations with their own town councils, they began centralized distribution of vegetables to the Patriotic Groups through the town councils.
However, when it came to rationing, the green vegetables were always the same: daikon radish and bok choy, with the occasional small amount of lotus roots and burdock roots. However, carrots, taro roots, and other special vegetables have all but disappeared from rations.
This has caused some controversy, and we asked Mr. Masaji Toya, president of Seoul Central Fruits and Vegetables Corporation, to explain the phenomenon of carrots, burdock roots, yams, and other vegetables making appearances in the public market, albeit being sold openly at horribly high black market prices.
He explained that the rationing of vegetables to retailers is allocated based on the population living in the district to which the retailers belong, so there is no need to worry about the rations being small because of the small number of retailers in certain districts. According to the Patriotic Groups, the vegetables are apparently being rationed equally by household. However, since rationing by the central market to the retailers is done based on population, it is appropriate for the town councils and Patriotic Groups to allocate rations based on the number of families, not based on the number of households.
The shortage of vegetables in general seems to be a problem, but the green vegetables shipments have been rationed at an allocation of 70% for households and 30% for non-home use, and we actually plan on reducing the allotment for non-home use even further. We know that the amount of carrots, burdock roots, tubers, and other vegetables that make it to the kitchens of ordinary people from the retailers is very small due to their very small shipments. But we would like you to endure some shortages with the intention of establishing a wartime lifestyle. We would like the people of Seoul to understand that most of the retailers in town are not selling in the free market, but rather putting all their effort into distributing the vegetables to the Patriotic Groups through the town councils.
It has been said that, the fact that there are special vegetables available at restaurants means that, if we had to distribute these especially scarce special vegetables to 1.2 million households, then the rations would not amount to as much as the tip of a pinky finger. However, if we had a clearly known supply amount of special vegetables along with a good prospect of distributing them to all households, even if it was a little bit, we would be able to distribute the special vegetables in a more orderly fashion. The fact that matsutake mushrooms, which were particularly scarce this fall, were all allocated to restaurant use may have been the cause of the misunderstanding.
In addition, the black market is considerable, and the fact that the market offers a wide range of products at high prices means that undesignated producers from the surrounding areas are appearing in the vicinity of the markets as smugglers, so we have no choice but to wait and see what the economic police authorities will do to crack down on this. The 22 public markets and department stores in Seoul have buffer zones where there is a free market of goods other than those rationed by the town councils. When a given vegetable shipment is small, then those vegetables are not rationed.
Since the introduction of controlled rationing, rations distributed by town councils have not been plentiful, but they have been adequate, and the fact that the vegetables are not distributed to general households is due to the small amount of vegetables arriving at the markets. The market strives to secure 50 to 70 momme (187.5 to 262.5 grams) of vegetables per person per day, and they are receiving close to this amount of vegetables, but there may be some shortages from this time through the winter season.
Regarding the rationing by the retailers to the town councils, when the vegetable shipment is small, free market sales are carried out after discussions with the town council. The first priority is to secure sufficient amounts of vegetables to avoid these free market sales, but shipments of vegetables to the market are getting smaller due to transportation problems and pricing issues.
We asked about the winter supplies of vegetables and future countermeasures….
The Seoul government seems to be working on a concrete plan for the frozen storage of vegetables, but we have no choice but to expect shipments of winter vegetables from producing areas and distribute them according to the amount of vegetables received. To cope with the annual shortage of vegetables from late December to around March, we would like to ask consumers to try to store dried vegetables, such as by splitting and drying daikon radishes which are plentiful in early fall, and storing bok choy tightly wrapped in newspaper sheets in a corner of the kitchen. The market is also doing its best to collect shipments as much as possible. In addition, when shipment amounts are very small, all free market sales will be suspended, and non-home use allocations will be reduced and redirected to general households instead.
Future measures include a registration system to connect traders and consumers, and having town councils take charge of all rationing. Retailers will be strengthened by having them assume full responsibility for rationing. We will carefully select retailers to ensure proper rationing. We are currently conducting a fact-finding survey of designated retailers, and we are readily taking action against those retailers who are of bad character in order to ensure that rationing is strictly enforced.
Regarding fruits, it seems that a few tangerines have been distributed recently for New Year’s Day, and apples have been seen from time to time, but persimmons and other fruits have not been seen at all. Fruits are also distributed by designated retailers through the town councils in the same way as vegetables, but there is almost no supply at all. We will soon receive a considerable amount of apples, but we are trying to collect all the fruit that comes in, even if only a little, as rations for the town councils, so that we can give the fighting residents of Seoul a taste of the four seasons. [Photo: A pile of green onions that have just arrived.]