The phenomenon of dining alone has been given a term in Korea: honbap (“hon” meaning alone and “bap” meaning meal (literally, “rice”) in Korean). Traditionally and socially, the idea of eating alone has never been a positive one. Many Koreans are pessimistic about the idea of eating alone , even to the extent that they would rather forgo a proper meal than eat alone.
These days, however, an increasing number of people are eating meals alone. According to CJ Cheil Jedang, a leading food culture company in Korea, consumers now eat an average of 3.9 meals out of 10 meals alone on average. In particular, single and two person households and single kangaroo households (unmarried children living with their parents) eat 4.8 meals alone on average, or approximately half of all meals. For senior households, the figure is 4.4 meals. All of these numbers indicate the prevalence of the honbap culture in Korea.
Many Koreans sympathize with the honbap phenomenon, as can be seen through the immense popularity of television programs that revolve around this culture. Soap operas, such as Honsulnamnyeo (Drinking Solo) gained much popularity as it accurately portrayed the culture of dining or drinking alone after work. Restaurants that recognize the growing trend of honbap are following suit by accommodating their single customers as much as possible; they are installing tables that face the walls or individual booths and even modifying their menus to include single portions that are served in convenient lunchbox forms (for people who would rather have their foods to-go).
The cause of honbap seems to rely on several factors. First, there has been an increase of single households; the number of which has tripled since 2003. Naturally, more people happen to be alone at mealtimes. Second, the spread of social media has had a major impact. Scientists found a strong positive correlation between the development of social media and the honbap trend. Because social media and the internet provide entertaining sources of distraction for consumers, eating alone no longer feels lonely. Lastly, factors related to Korean society—growing academic competition as well as stronger individualism—are accountable for the increase of honbap. Even among high school students, honbap is becoming more common because most students go to hagwon (cram school or private academies) after school instead of staying home to enjoy dinner with their families.
Sewon Han, a student from S.I.E international school, said that he prefers to eat with friends. But when he is in a hurry, he resorts to eating alone at a convenience store. “It’s lonely eating alone, and of course I want to go to a decent restaurant with friends.” Han values time spent with friends after school. “Friendships deepen over good meals with friends. Moreover, because restaurants use better ingredients, the quality of their meals is much better than that of the convenience stores.” As much as he would like to, Han cannot always choose to eat proper meals with friends due to his busy academic schedules. “On days when I have back-to-back classes or hagwons, I don’t have time to wait for meals to be prepped. So, I just go to the convenience store to grab some fast foods.”
|[A student does Honbap in the restaurant. Photo taken by Min Gyu Kim]|
Honbap seems to be a double-edged sword. “Although honbap may be convenient, it is linked to many health issues, especially for teenagers and young adults who are still growing,” said Minho Lee, chief manager of the cafeteria service at S.I.E. international school. He emphasized that honbap is likely to induce the consumption of unhealthy instant foods. As fast foods tend to contain high levels of not only fats and carbohydrates but also EDC (endocrine disrupting chemicals, a mixture of chemicals that interfere with the way our hormones work), they are detrimental to young adults whose bodies and organs are still developing. “As students are in their most important stages of growth, a healthy and balanced diet is crucial to establishing a healthy physical foundation,” said Lee. He has noticed that more students are visiting convenience stores to buy fast foods, such as instant noodles, fried chicken, chips, and sodas, rather than eating a healthy meal. “I strive to provide a well-balanced and healthy diet for students at S.I.E,” he said.
|[Interviewing Minho Lee. Photo taken by Min Gyu Kim]|
Whether or not honbap is an acceptable trend in our society, it is highly likely that this phenomenon will continue to grow. As such, knowing both the benefits and the shortcomings of honbap will be important to ensuring the health of our loved ones and to establishing an ideal culinary culture.
Shepherd International Education
Mingyu Kim firstname.lastname@example.org
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