“I knew this really good hole in the wall,” answered Song, CUK (Catholic University of Korea) student, to a question of a foreign exchange student from Sweden. The foreign student attending CUK was trying to find a good restaurant in Yeokgok-dong. Song wanted to introduce the popular restaurant to her. However, for a vegan, it was hard to find a square meal without meat nearby campus.
Vegetarianism Becoming Global Upward Trend
Pointing out the problem of a carnivorous diet, “vegetarianism” and “veganism” have become increasingly popular. Last September, Grand View Research figured out that the world vegan market grew an average of 9.6% every year, and is predicted it to be equal to a 246-billion-dollar market in 2025. According to The Korea Vegetarian Union (한국채식연합, KVU), the domestic vegan population has increased from 15 thousand in 2008 to 150~200 thousand last year.
The term “veganism” was coined recently. In 1944, carpenter Donald Watson and his wife Dot invented the word to mark the “beginning and end of vegetarianism.” Donald decided to become a vegan after he saw and heard about the death of a pig on his uncle’s farm. Historian Dr. Catherine Oliver also suggests that veganism today is being increasingly situated “not as a diet but as a social justice issue.”
Meat Causing Modern Social Problems
The Barrier to Adopting a Vegetarian Diet in Korea
As people who want to have a vegetarian diet increase, the supply of venues is also increasing. For example, in the past year, when COVID-19 was not spread, the student body council of CUK organized the final exam period event that provides the snack of a vegetarian diet. The student restaurant Aramark had provided the vegetarian menu in cooperation with the student body council or Cat-holic, cat club in CUK. Kim (international∙14), a CUK student who participated in the event at that time, said, “I hope this kind of event will be increased in our university.”
However, it is still hard for the public to not only participate in the short-term event but continuously avoid the carnivorous diet in Korea. First, because the restaurants providing a vegetarian meal are limited. When Kim (international∙14) decided to have a vegetarian diet two years ago, he had difficulty in having a meal nearby campus because of few options.
“I could go few restaurants without Subway, Perilla Seed and Barley Barely (들깨랑 보리보리), and another salad café, so sometime I could not help personally asking to make a vegetable menu.” Kim said he understands why few restaurants provide a vegetable menu. “Because there are few vegetarians, of course, but I have thought of restaurants making the vegetarian menu reflecting the increasing demand.”
Especially, the meat diet predominates in the get-together dinner party culture of Korea. Moon Seo-young (psychology∙19) is the general affairs secretary of Psychodrama, the society of psychology majors at CUK. She commented there are few restaurants for a get-together dinner where a vegetarian can go. “Last year, where our club went for get-togethers are chicken, grilled pork, pork rib hangover soup, or Budaejjiage (sausage stew) restaurants and we had tried eating the Braised Spicy Chicken before the pandemic."
Alternative meat is expensive for the general public to purchase. In the case of Dutch company Mosa Meat, the cell-cultured meat beggar patty is almost 20 thousand euro (about 323 million won) in the first stage of development. They predicted it will become sold at 9 euros (about 11.6 thousand won) if technology innovation and mass production become available. Moreover, little research and investment in cultured meat is being done in Korea. In many aspects, a carnivorous diet is still unavoidable.
Is “Animal Welfare” an Ideal or Reality?
Making a Sustainable Vegetarianism Environment
Due to the limitation of the carnivorous diet, the effort to make it ‘easy to have a meal without meat’ will become more and more necessary. For example, many local governments, public institutions, and companies are participating in the campaign of Meat-free Monday Korea. Supporting alternative meat development is another way to make a sustainable environment. Bill Gates, a passionate defender of alternative meat, wrote, “Yet we cannot ask everyone to become vegetarians. That is why we need more options for producing meat without depleting our resources.”
This environment is sometimes recognized as of right to be protected. In June, Seoul Metropolitan of Education announced the mid and long-term plan to expand the selective vegetarian meal policy. “Even though the students who are aware of the health and climate problem and want to eat a vegetarian meal, the current school meals is composed mainly of a carnivorous diet. It can be an injustice and a violation of human rights.” CUK student Kim (international∙14) also said, “I hope our university would make an effort to prevent the infringement of the right of people who have the vegetable diet for various reasons.”
Most of all, the social attention of the consumer is important to make an environment where people can continually have a vegetarian diet because it can draw an inflow of capital. In Korea, E-mart organized a “vegetarian zone” in several of its stores starting in August. “The vegetarian culture is not established in Korea yet like in the foreign market, so we are organizing the test operation first.” E-mart personnel said, “As Korea also has enough growth potential, we will follow the situation with attention.”
Is it possible for only humans to eat well and live well? It is impossible.
I have thought that only “Homo Symbius”, who actively finds a way
to coexist with other living things, can make an ideal future
and, honestly, the only possible future.
- Choi Jae-chun, biologist –
Now and maybe in the future, the cost of a vegetarian diet will always be high. However, today’s customers should not only pursue convenience and cheap products. Instead, they should look for products reflecting an ethical process and justifiable profits. Because these customers’ needs will be reflected in the industry, which will create an easier environment for people to have a vegetarian diet and finally enable humans to live together well with the other inhabitants of the planet. Above all, according to biologist Choi Jae-chun, it is “the only possible future.”