Report Reveals South Korean Soldiers Fed Poor Quality Food

A South Korean soldier fries eggs on a shovel. Image for illustration purposes, obviously.

A South Korean soldier fries eggs on a shovel. Image for illustration purposes, obviously.

A recent National Assembly investigation into food in the military revealed that a South Korean soldier is fed for just ₩2,051 won (1.42EUR/1.85USD) per meal, an amount far lower than that given to American soldiers and even less than most Seoul elementary school pupils receive. Images of inedible-looking barrack meals in the news have recently inspired outrage and accusations that the South Korean military wastes its massive budget.

The member of the National Assembly behind the food budget report also made news recently for revealing another shocking military revelation: according to the most recent Ministry of Defense statistics, 64% of all deaths among members of the armed forces during the past five years have been from suicide.

South Koreans have a complicated relationship with the military, simultaneously relying on a huge standing army in defence against the North but also resenting conscription and the strict hierarchy of the armed forces.

While some comments praised the report, others repeated the argument that legislators will never understand military culture because so many of them did not serve. In fact, 46 of the 253 members of the current National Assembly who were eligible for the draft did not serve – that’s 18.2% (source) – a figure in stark comparison to the 6.4% of the overall eligible male population who do not do military service (source). Political commentary often cites this disparity as an example of how politicians allegedly follow a different set of rules from the average citizen.

Assembly Member Jung presented these images of meals served at training bases this September

Article from E-Daily:

Soldiers go hungry, daily meals worth just half of meals given to US Army

While the annual budget for feeding the armed forces rose by 4% this year, it still remains at a low level.

Saenuri Party member Jung Hee-soo, of the National Assembly Defense Committee, stated in an investigative report distributed on 3rd October that “in 2012, the funds allotted for one meal for a soldier is 2,051 won ($1.84), adding up to just 6,155 won ($5.54) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” The report goes on to say, “the amount doesn’t even match that allotted for Seoul primary or middle school students, whose individual meal costs are respectively 2,580 won ($2.32) and 3,250 won ($2.93).”

The figures mentioned in the report mean that the cost of a soldier’s meal is just 63% of that given to middle school students and 79% of a primary school student’s.

Compared with the US military, the meal budget for Korean soldiers looks even worse. In 2012, the allotment for an American soldier was 11,385 won ($10.23) per day, or 3,795 won ($3.41) per meal. This means that a Korean soldier must eat a meal worth just 54% of the meal an American soldier receives.

Assembly Member Jung then presented photos of the meals provided at Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine mess halls.

On the 10th September, a lunch provided at a Marine mess hall consisted of rice, curry, kimchi, and a few sesame leaves. Breakfast at an Air Force barracks was broth with a few bean sprouts, kimchi, soft tofu, and sautéed squid.

Describing the food, Jung said, “Looking at these photos, it is doubtful that a soldier on training, fatigued in body and spirit, could keep up his strength with such meals…When you consider that the mess halls probably took care to make their meals look more substantial when they sent photographs at the request of the National Assembly, the typical meals must be even less than this.”

He added, “Next year’s allocation for the military meal budget is also set to rise just 4.5%, such minute increases are not sufficient to make the meals match the reality of our soldiers’ needs. Knowing that a soldier’s morale can be determined by how he eats, it is paramount that we solve the problem of inadequate meals, regardless of how small our military budget may be.”

Comments from Daum:


Regardless of how these draft-dodging rats may chatter away, they are in no rush to fix such a problem


I’m really curious to see if even half of the meal allocation is being spent wisely…


Rat-saekki, you throw money at the Four Rivers Project but leave nothing to pay for food. How long will we have to put up with this miserable bunch of draft dodgers?


The reaction of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, along with all the feminazis: “Yeah, and what’s wrong with spending so little??”


And out of that food budget how much are the profiteers skimming off? How much by the division commander? And the regimental commander? They get their kimchi and then how much finally trickles down to the enlisted man?


Does the writer of this article have any idea how much America spends on defense?


Crack down on the shit-star generals who retired and the veterans groups, that’s the way to solve this problem


I entered the Air Force in 2005. I have since left the military… but even as someone who likes to eat at good restaurants I thought that the food wasn’t that bad. Don’t try to fix something that will never change, instead increase the spending on other military supplies. What we had to eat was sufficient.


Even having thrown away money on the Four Rivers Project we should be able to spend as much money as the American soldiers get. Rat saekki traitors… same with chicken liver Park [Note: a pun on the name of Park Geun-hye, presidential candidate]


What do they expect to eat, cafeteria food is cafeteria food. To be honest, that looks better than what I get at home. They don’t eat it because they are bad-mannered. It’s going to the canteen that’s the problem.


Have you ever seen them leave food on the plate? If the food comes out alright then it could even be compared with the stuff at a buffet. They don’t even eat breakfast when they’re at home…


I doubt even half of the money is used


The problem isn’t the budgeted amount it’s all those noms who skim money off the top.


It looks like nothing has changed in the 35 years since I was in the military. Instead, it looks like things have gotten even worse. However the number of golf courses for the military manages to keep increasing. Just like with our career soldiers, you’ve got to take care of all soldiers who are serving their country!!!


Nonsense ke ke The food doesn’t look like this. The food depicted would be the very worst I’ve ever seen come out of a training camp mess hall. Most of the time there’s meat on the side. You can eat your fill (well, actually, sometimes there’s a little bit less but it’s only a very little bit less) and fruit, ice cream, and bread also shows up often. When it came to fruit, it seemed like I ate apples, persimmons, pears, and grapes almost every day. Hardtack or ice cream was also often on the menu. I never worried about eating in the army, don’t worry.


I ate more bean sprouts, squid, and seaweed in the army than I ever had in my life. Dear lord the amount of bean sprouts, every single meal except when we had toast.


Even soldiers in the Tang Dynasty ate better than that.


Thank you! If the food changes for the better next year then I will vote for Assembly Member Jung for the rest of my life.


I worked in the headquarters, when I went to the officer’s dining room the rice was always pure white, always made in a pressure cooker and had that lustrous shine to it… When I went to the enlisted man’s cafeteria the rice was just steamed, came out crumbly, and was always kind of yellow. It was inevitable, the only thing we got was government rice that had passed its expiration date. There was even a difference between the kimchi served to the officers and what they gave to the enlisted men.


How is this different from what a human rights lawyer said about the young generation, that it was nothing but a slave to the older generation?.. How much is the salary for a conscript now, 100,000 won ($90) a month? Even with the unusual situation of a divided country, how can we call ourselves a civilised country if we force young people to spend two valuable years of their life in the army and then treat them like this? Dammit, the standard of living and our social consciousness is still at the level of a developing nation…

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  • Ruaraidh

    Wow that would suck so much. A few years ago I did just 3 weeks of military training, and despite eating well I was hungry a lot of that time.

  • YungsukNoh

    Well its kind of sad that an army will give so poor food, it isnt taking long or to much money to make something better :)

  • chris

    We gave them the delivery phone number to the Popeye’s and Pizza Hut on the US side of the base and they never went hungry again.

  • holdingrabbits

    I love the arbitrary comparison to the US military. The way it’s presented is that Korea is paying twice as much to feed the US troops. Let’s then go ahead and compare everything in Korea to America. How can we tolerate Korea, though not having the same level of economy as the States, not being on par with America in every way?!

    • Yu Bumsuk

      It would be interesting to compare it to what NK soldiers get. The marines’ lunch didn’t look all that terrible – curry, rice, and some spicy compost. I’d rate that as an average school lunch. If that’s their worst meal they’re probably eating all right.

      No mention of choco pies, either – Korea’s greatest snack invention.

      • Patrick

        choco pies – Korea’s greatest snack invention. Back home in Canada their real name is a wagon wheel. Pretty sure they didn’t have those back in 1948 in Korea.

        • Yu Bumsuk

          It’s possible a Canadian and Korean invented them seperately. At least we can be pretty sure Canadians didn’t invent ricetards.

          • Patrick

            Yep, glad we didn’t invent ricetards. Actually the wagon wheel wasn’t invented in Canada, but Australia according to Wiki. Amazing the things you can learn on Wiki. They say Koreans started making the choco pie in 1974.

        • holdingrabbits

          In the south, we have “moon pies.” That’s right, moon pies.

        • Snarl

          I was under the impression that the Belgians had invented them in the 18th century, and over time they evolved into a variety of different chocolate and cream pies, the choco pie being just one of them.

      • Chris

        North Korean Army: Steals/strongarms food from collective farms
        North Korean Navy: Stea– “confiscates” catch from Chinese fishing vessels that were “illegally” encroaching upon their “special economic zone” waters.
        North Korean Air Force: Pilots get full meals since they have the easiest means with which to defect.

        I wish I was joking

  • k

    That looks like typical Korean food to me. It looks just like what the kids at my school there ate. Honestly, Korean food is not that nurtritious anyway……red pepper paste, kimchi (fermented cabbage doused in red pepper paste with a few other things), salty bean soup, white rice (never brown), bean sprouts…….most korean food is low in calorie, but also very high in sodium, nitrites and nitrates, not diverse in color, low quality meats, and doused very strong red pepper or other sauces to make up for the lack of quality and taste. American food is more diverse and more nutritious and much more cheap(and no I’m not talking about the fast food, which is what many non americans thinks all americans eat… isn’t, most americans cook their meals at home and the food is much better. I made my husband and I vegetable soup with fresh carrots, cabbage, radish, brussel sprouts, onion, potato, and broccoli in a low sodium chicken stock with freshly baked french bread on the side last night). Raw food ingredients in Seoul are expensive, good quality meat is expensive, noodles and kimchi and soy bean paste and red pepper paste are not….so that’s what they eat (well they do eat a lot of red leaf lettuce with their food, so that’s good). The way their military men are treated by superiors I think is a bigger problem then their food… husband has told me many horrific abuse cases when he was in the military. Blah, bad mood :(

    • Yu Bumsuk

      My friend’s daughter went from eating at a Korean school cafeteria to an American one. There can be no question which one served the healthier food, probably for a much lower cost. Apparently she just couldn’t believe it. Pizza for lunch? Hamburgers for lunch? Lasagna for lunch?

      • Chris

        Are you really comparing a school cafeteria to the general diet of a country? It’s clear she was comparing stuff at a national level, not “cherry pick American school food” level.

        • Yu Bumsuk

          No, she was expressing surprise to her father about what they actually get to eat for lunch at school. She never got that kind of thing in Korea. In Korea pizza was a treat at a birthday party, not school cafeteria lunch.

          • Chris

            I’m talking about the poster, not your friend’s daughter.

    • Seanshine

      So it seems even in the military you get your arse served to you. (Who wouldve guessed lol) Thought it would be a period of rest for most Koreans from civilian every other day abuse.

  • Patrick

    You can’t change what is.

  • Brett Sanbon

    If this is about the food being poor quality, ok. If this is about ‘Americans/foreigners being treated better’, this is bullshit.

    • Comparisons with the US Army are probably made because that’s the closest/most relevant yardstick to the ROK Army. The more interesting comparisons to discuss would probably be the domestic ones referring to elementary and high school pupils.

      • Brett Sanbon

        I just thought that when it gets broken down to the price (American army’s food costs twice as much) it was making an unfair comparison…. Perhaps a comparison of the quality/nutritional value of US soldiers’ food to ROK’s rations would be more fair.

        Cost and quality/size aren’t always relative. Were those numbers raw food cost only, or was labor included? The cooks on the US base probably get paid much higher wages than the ROK do.

        Regardless, I doubt soldiers anywhere brag about their meals.

    • holdingrabbits


  • 참을 수 없는 존재의 가벼움

    The supposedly revealing criticism from a lawmaker on the defence subcommitte of the nation’s parliament appears successful in catching public eyes.

    The problem with low-quality food for Korean soldiers is a tip of the iceberg, typically represented by the high suicide rate among them.

    Think about why the guards of national security took their lives after failed to guard themselves against painfully bullying and stiriflingly rigid atmosphere within the military amid unbearable workloads–labor work on fixing things during daytime and manning guard posts, in addition to tightly scheduled field training on mountains for mutiple nights.

    The short-term fix like allocating more money for meals at barracks cannot save the innocent lives though succeeded in drawing short attention from the public.

  • lonetrey

    Man, I really do not envy those poor military men. They gotta step up the food, how could they not know the correlation between food and morale by now? We’re in the 21st century for crying out loud!

  • x1sfg

    I’d be willing to trade some shitty calorie ridden dfac food for what the ROK SOF guys eat. Then again, it depends on the service dining facility. USAF and USN dfacs are typically decent, but doused in butter and oil. Army = worse than Air Force, but with more fats and sodium. As for USMC chow halls, Pendleton is okay, Lejeune only when they have pork shoulder. FOBs are all terrible. Heard a rumor the best food in the military is on SSNs.

    Weird though, most the old crusties Vietnam vets would always say they would march three miles just to go eat with the ROKMC as they had much better food than the US.

    • Chris

      The best I had was actually at Bonifas, though the decision to make the food good probably has more to do with showing off capitalist living standards to North Korean infiltrators than any genuine interest in 2ID’s health and comfort.

      • Seanshine


  • Jahar

    Looks worse than the prison food I had while there.

  • Kim Jong-un

    The food doesn’t look good, really don’t understand NK soldiers defected to the South.

    • ddd

      The south korean meal probably looks luxurious compare to theirs.

  • ddd

    no wonder their soldiers look so weak.

    • shattered2012


  • Cleo

    Are they making them feel deprivation in a time of war?

  • 참을 수 없는 존재의 가벼움

    With a relatively small military budget, feeding what I think is the largest standing army in the world, except for North Korea’s, is a real challenge. This test is resovled by reducing overhead costs as much as possible like food and clothing while increasing pain suffered by soldiers who are always hunger when they are soldiers in Korea.

    The impression is increasingly manifest that the South Korean is far lagging behind ongoing advances in society.

    The nation is in the 21st century but the military is still in habernation of the 20 century.

  • Web of Lies

    It’s not really useful to use a currency comparison to made this type of evaluation.

    They should have did a straight up comparison of the average weight and portions of each meal from SK and US. Currency figures don’t tell the full story. Was the food bought at a discounted price? Could the soldiers go for seconds? Is the conversion done at the real exchange or nominal rate? How many times do they eat per day?

    With that being said, if the soldiers are only allotted one portion as shown in the price, it does look a bit skimpy for a soldier who has to train. That only looks like about 700 calories.

  • Seanshine

    So what are we really looking at in the tray photos. The Korean titled ones with one partition less of food? ?? Why are they always comparing their standards to that of others. (Americans in particular?) Isn’t this what they are used to eating, small portions? Who goes in the Army to eat a healthy serving of beef roast when trainiging for harsh times. I thought the military was all about rationing PERIOD!

  • Jay Kim

    TBH this pretty much looks like a standard korean meal to me. I don’t see what they’re complaining about. It probably blows US army stuff out the water in terms of flavoring/seasoning (kimchi v.s. ….boiled vegetables?). Besides, these guys are in the army, not in some holiday summer camp. Hunger is something they’ll have to get used to if a war ever breaks out so why not prepare for that mentality now.

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  • JenniT

    Is that what my boyfriend used to eat during his military service???? T.T

  • hmmm

    that egg scene seems truely horrible hm

  • Sergent Lee (Ret.) from 31st D

    I am a Korean and I had served two and half years in the ROK Army(1992-1994). Our army meals are not that bad showing on the pictures above though not that good as US GIs. In addition, the photo of soldier who frying eggs with shovel, he is a Chinese soldier, not South Korean soldier. You can figure it out his epaulet. ROK force do not use it like that. If you want to chew ROK army, please tell after getting an exact information.

  • bang2tang

    They’re using shovel for frying egg, it’s called surviving skill I guess.
    You will eat anything edible during war.

  • omgwtfbbqhax1

    Much of ingredients for the meals in korean army comes from expired groceries thrown out from supermarkets.

    In addition, one of my friends who served during the year of avian flu epidemic was quite happy to see meat on his plate every day, which are normally never given in military rations. (thanks to diseased chickens being culled by the millions)

  • omgwtfbbqhax1

    Also it appears most westerners are completely oblivious to the fact that Korean military service is not just ‘military service’. Its basically a sentencing to two year unpaid slave labor.

    Typically Korean military personel only goes through one month of basic training. Considering that Korea is a peace (only technically ‘at war’ with North) time nation, for the rest of the time soldiers are deployed for various slave labor projects.

    Korean soldiers are commonly employed as free slave labor for maintenance of civilian infrastructures. For example 2010 Korean F1 Grand Prix used free soldier labor to prepare stadium and construct seats for audience. Even worse, many large Korean conglomerates and construction companies such as Lotte and Samsung are known to [most likely with government collusion] use soldiers as free slave labor for civilian construction projects.

    Korea is pretty much the only OECD country that exploits their military men as free slave labor for civilian projects. Korean military doesnt treat you as some one that serves your country, but instead as an obedient slave.

  • omgwtfbbqhax1

    Its not only food thats affected by corruption and embezzlement in Korean military. Most Korean soldiers spend all day having to gather firewoods. Its mainly because the superiors happened to embezzled the fuels and sold them for personal gains.

    Korean military has such an abysmal conditions, that in many cases they have to restrict soldier’s access to live ammunition in order to prevent suicides. Considering their near zero morale and constant military abuse, its curious to see how many of the 500,000 soldiers will stick around and not desert when an actual war breaks out.

    Not only that, many predict that large scale and widespread fragging will occur throughout all military regiments in South Korea in event of a war. It is completely understandable in a military culture where “washing machine and refrigerator use are for sergeants and above only”.

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