Tuesday, March 27, 2018

To Meat, Or Not To Meat

South Koreans love meat.  As a teacher, when I ask my beginner-level students what their favorite food is, the answer is often immediate -- "meat!"  Then I try to explain how this sounds very strange in English, like something a dinosaur or a rabid dog might say, and I confuse them to no end and earn my Bad Teacher Badge for the week.

But is change possible?  Can vegetarian or even vegan lifestyles make a dent in arguably the only country in Asia that doesn't maintain some semblance of a meat-less lifestyle tradition?  Maybe, but it won't be easy:
"Many vegans in Korea are often forced to make up lies just to get through various social gatherings. 
According to the raw food instructor Kim, people from her monthly vegan gathering are often forced to come up with some smart moves to prevent awkward situations while eating out with others, especially with colleagues.
'Some of them told me that they either lie that they’re taking oriental medicine as an excuse to avoid eating meat or continuously flip over the meat being grilled so that nobody notices that he or she is not eating it,' said Kim. 
'This happens because vegans are often regarded as people who need to be attended to, and both sides don’t want that to happen every time they eat together.'
Regarding the social pressure, Prof. Chun Sang-chin, who teaches in the department of sociology at Sogang University, said, 'Korean society has a strong social pressure to be in sync with others rather than tolerating an individual’s choices. This trend is not only seen among people of older generations, but also among young people in their 20s and 30s.'”
The rule of thumb in Asia, if you want to find a vegetarian meal, is to find either Buddhist temple-style restaurants or an Indian joint.  Alas, this won't work in almost all of South Korea.  The article mentions that at least in Seoul you might have some options, but outside of the capitol vegetarianism is either misunderstood, treated with suspicion, or more likely met with both confusion and derision.  I've even encountered situations where a waiter will swear up and down that a menu item is vegetarian, then return -- mixed vegetables!  On a bed of fried rice containing big chunks of ham!  Vegetarian perfection!

As someone trying to eat less meat these days, but still far from a full-blown vegetarian, I'd love to see this trend take hold outside of Seoul as well.  Daegu does have a few nice Indian places, as well as a Loving Hut.  But the latter is problematic.  First, I'm not convinced their menu is "all organic" (frozen, microwaved dumplings rarely are).  Second, you're easing your conscience regarding animals at the expense of supporting a gosh-durn cult.

Honestly, if you're moving to South Korea and take your vegetarian or vegan lifestyle at all seriously, be prepared to cook 95% of your meals for yourself.  (Fresh fruit and vegetables are easy to obtain, once you find a good local grocer.)  But expect plenty of awkward meals, especially with co-workers, where you'll be stared at like the killjoy you are as you nibble on small bites of plain white rice.

(Even kimchi, as healthy and delicious as it is, isn't vegetarian.)

No comments:

Post a Comment