Thousands of delicious Choco Pies floated over the North Korean border this week as both a gift and a protest from their southern neighbors. Choco Pies, if you are not familiar, are delicious chocolatey cookie snacks with a marshmallow center. South Korean activists launched giant balloons carrying the pies towards North Korea, a practice they have previously used for sending knowledge of the outside world on pamphlets and USB drives.
Choco Pies are very popular in North Korea, to the degree that there is a sort of Choco Pie black market. A factory shared by North and South Korea used the pies to pay employees. The employees would then sell the pies for a premium, and use them to purchase other things.
Beyond their street value, the Choco Pie also represented a world outside of North Korea. Author and history professor Andrei Lankov explained in his book, The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia that the Choco Pie "symbolizes South Korea's prosperity, sophistication and progress. Like canned beer in the Soviet Union of my youth, [the Choco Pie] shows that the surrounding world is rich and full of wonders—gastronomical and otherwise."
As Choco Pie prices increased, they were being used by North Koreans more and more as an actual currency. The North Korean government felt this was a threat of sorts, and ordered factory owners to stop adding the pies to employee wages. One of the activists who organized the Choco Pie balloon event, Choo Sun-Hee, said, "Embarrassed by the growing popularity of Choco Pie, North Korea banned it as a symbol of capitalism."
About 200 activists released 50 balloons carrying 10,000 Choco Pies. That's 770 pounds of Choco Pies.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.