Historic Unedited Photos They Don't Want You To See
Publication: Historical Archives. Posted by
Historic Unedited Photos They Don't Want You To See
North Koreans are no strangers to food shortages, and sometimes resort to foraging to feed their families
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that North Korea is facing a food shortage, but the problem might be more extreme than you think. Those that are struggling for food can’t rely on a system provided by the state for relief, but instead have to rely on finding their own food much of the time. This can mean that when people get desperate for food, they turn to eating food straight from the earth, even if it’s not fruits or vegetables.
Unfortunately, many have to resort to eating grass or bark directly from a tree. It’s not a glamorous way to live, but for many, it’s the only option. These problems were first reported several years ago, when government officials first told residents to start eating more “wild foods” for survival.
One North Korean resident had been living homeless since he was a child, and said that without eating wild food he wouldn’t have survived, and in fact, almost killed him on several occasions. “I ate several different kinds of wild foods, such as neung-jae, which is wild grass found in the fields,” he said. “It’s poisonous – your face swells up the next day. Other kinds of grass and some mushrooms are also poisonous so you could die if you picked the wrong one.”
Grass and tree bark have very little nutritional content, leaving many residents of North Korea completely malnourished. Many would choose to rather go hungry than chew on potential plants that could be poisonous. There are also some that try to get creative so it feels like they’re actually eating meals.
“Sometimes I mixed corn powder with pine tree bark, which gave me bowel problems, but I needed to add something to my food to satiate my hunger,” the source said. “I also ate the leftover ingredients after making corn alcohol and tofu. I knew all these foods had little nutritional value, but I still ate them to fill my stomach.”
It was estimated that at the height of the food shortage in North Korea, more than a quarter of people’s daily food intake came from wild plants. The numbers would take a sharp decline in the late 1990s, but have risen once again in the years since. This has even caused livestock shortages as people are turning the foods that would have normally been fed to farm animals that were to be slaughtered later on.
Over the last couple of years Kim Jong Un and the North Korean government have been telling citizens to brace for more periods of famine where foraging for food is the only way to survive. As more sanctions are being put into place, it puts citizens into a tougher spot as they have no say over what the government does, but are the ones that face the consequences, and that’s really felt in terms of food.
A lot of citizens will even hoard the food that they’ve grown in hopes that they don’t have to share this food with the state. In certain areas, such as the capital of Pyeongchang, citizens are forced to provide more than two pounds of rice to the state each month. However, the state also bans words such as “famine” and “hunger” to silence many criticisms. Even those in the military have to scour for their own food at times.
In early 2018, photos were leaked of North Korean soldiers foraging through corn fields, in what appeared to be the government searching for any food that could be used. One source said that “The officers know better than anyone that they must feed their soldiers in order to maintain morale, and that rations of cornmeal with very few calories only serve to instill disillusionment among them.”
Certain soldiers are given multiple months off at one time to help gather food, which has led to a handful of them defecting the country altogether in search of greener pastures. Parasites have also become common in food, causing health issues across the country. Experts in countries such as South Korea have seen the problems firsthand, especially from defectors, and know that North Korea is facing a crisis.
The food shortage only becomes worse if you happen to be a prisoner in North Korea. The prisons get last dibs on the food rations, leaving many prisoners to starve to death. However, if guards catch you trying to eat the grass at a prison, they’ll make you eat the soil as punishment. Compare that to the United States, where prisons are criticized for their meals, but still consist of enough calories and nutrients to keep people healthy.
Yearly estimates of starvation deaths in North Korea are hard to report, as the numbers are kept quite secret from the rest of the world. Experts say, though, that at least 18 million of the 25 million citizens don’t get enough to eat. Rations have been toned down to under one pound per day, providing people with very little food to get by. The problem figures to get worse before it gets better, and it seems the only way that North Korea can prevent people from starving within their borders is by making some sacrifices to their policies.