Korean American Association of New Jersey Urges Official Kimchi Day
Kimchi, a fermented Korean side dish, has long been familiar to many Americans, but one group is determined to get state—and national—appreciation for the popular and healthful pickled condiment.
Kimchi, arguably the rock star of fermented vegetables, is poised for formal recognition and a deeper understanding of its heritage, health benefits, and widespread popularity.
The Korean American Association of New Jersey (KAANJ) is urging the Garden State to become the second state in the U.S. to officially recognize South Korea’s traditional soul food with a commemorative day. California’s legislature passed a resolution in August, championed by assemblyman Steven Choi, designating November 22 as “Kimchi Day.” South Korea recently celebrated its first Kimchi Day in 2020.
New Jersey’s Bergen County has one of the largest concentrations of Koreans in the country, according to KAANJ, but the overall goal is for national attention celebrating kimchi. “I’d like to emphasize this is not just a New Jersey campaign, it’s a national campaign,” KAANJ President Han Ik Son said.
In addition to California and New Jersey, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, and Illinois are also lined up to urge a congressional resolution marking a nationwide Korean Kimchi Day, he said.
Michelle Song (far left), senior vice president of the Korean American Association of New Jersey, prepares kimchi with KAANJ President Han Ik Son (rear) and U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (second from right). (Handout photo)
National pride is a key component in KAANJ’s push for official recognition of the Korean staple. “We want to make sure everybody understands kimchi originated in Korea,” KAANJ Senior Vice President Michelle Song said.
Pickled vegetables are a part of other Asian cuisines, but Korean kimchi’s fermentation process uses salt and soybean paste to maximize the lactic acid fermentation of its ingredients—traditionally consisting of Napa cabbage, radishes, ginger, garlic, and chili peppers—which sets it apart from other cultures’ processes, according to the Korean Cultural Center in Washington, DC.
Part of KAANJ’s mission is to help “bring better things to more people,” Son said, and the benefits of kimchi are an integral part of that. Because it is fermented, kimchi boasts probiotics for better gut health and is loaded with beta-carotene and other antioxidants that can help reduce the risk of serious health conditions like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
KAANJ recently held its 20th annual Korean Festival in Ridgefield Park, which featured a kimchi-making booth. After U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (NJ), a New Jersey native and the son of Korean immigrants, delivered remarks to the crowd, he rolled up his sleeves, donned clear plastic gloves, and helped make kimchi.
The group hopes to garner widespread political support for the commemorative day. It has approached politicians at all levels—local, state, and federal—to ask for help in advancing a resolution.
Last year’s festival was diminished because of COVID-19 and only had about 200 attendees, but this year’s event attracted thousands of participants, Son said, who came to celebrate Korean food, culture, and play games. KAANJ volunteers staffed the event, which was so popular food vendors sold out halfway through. A Squid Game attraction, based on the popular Netflix show from Korea, attracted a large young audience.
Next up? KAANJ hopes to get enough support and recognition to create a nationwide petition for a national commemorative day celebrating kimchi that will land on President Biden’s desk.
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