For vegetarians in the Korean society, including those attending Korea University (KU), every meal is a struggle. In a society where vegetarians are a minority and are deemed abnormal and unnatural, what the society and its members inflict on them is more than mere inconvenience. Vegetarians are often deprived of their rights and freedom to pursue a lifestyle they believe in. With meaningful efforts at KU to protect the rights of vegetarians, it is time to imagine a better future for them.
Humans had a narrower range of culinary options back in the days when they only had access to food resources in the proximity of their homes. However, people have a diverse range of choices today. Meat-eating lifestyle eventually became prevalent in the modern society and Korea is also dominated by it. However, this lifestyle resulted in serious side effects related to animal rights and environmental issues. Vegetarians have acknowledged these social problems and made a change in their diet with strong conviction.
Strictly speaking, there are several forms of vegetarianism. For instance, pesco-vegetarians eat fish and seafood in an otherwise plant-based diet. A semi-vegetarian or flexitarian diet is a plant-based diet that occasionally includes meat. Vegans do not eat meat, fish, or poultry, nor do they use animal products and by-products. Reasons for adopting vegetarianism differ, ranging from ethical or religious to health-related reasons, but most vegetarians encounter problems such as weak infrastructure and distorted social perception.
Being a Vegetarian at KU
According to the Korea Vegetarian Union (KVU), there are approximately a million Koreans on a vegetarian diet, and 25 percent are in their twenties. The number of vegetarians is increasing in the Korean society and KU is not an exception. KU Vegetarian Network Bbourichim was established, made up of KU students who pursue a vegetarian lifestyle. They gathered together to make their voices heard in the student society. Bbourichim is a member of the Minority Human Rights Committee and has been actively voicing its opinions concerning the rights of vegetarians.
Lee Hye Soo (’16, Education), the planning director of Bbourichim remarked, “The fact that there is no vegetarian menu in the school cafeteria is one of the most inconvenient things at KU as a vegetarian. There are also not enough vegetarian options in restaurants around KU.” Bbourichim has continuously encouraged restaurants around KU to provide vegetarian options on their menus. An Indian curry restaurant accepted their suggestion and vegetable curry was added to the menu. Informational posts about animal rights and vegetarianism are constantly uploaded on Bbourichim’s official Facebook page. Holding seminars and encouraging vegetarian snack markets are also activities they engage in.
Bbourichim has also requested vegetarian options to be included at various school functions such as Ipselenti, Jiya Hamsung, the annual Ko-Yon Games, and orientations for freshmen. Together with these major events, snacks provided by the KU Student Association (KUSA) during mid-term and finals week have neglected vegetarians. However, through increased social awareness about vegetarianism and Bbourichim’s efforts, numerous majors and KUSA have included vegetarian options starting last year.
KUSA is enthusiastic in protecting the rights of vegetarians at KU. They have provided vegetarian snacks such as vegan breads and salads and recently embarked on meaningful procedures to add vegetarian dishes to the school cafeterias. As there is no vegetarian option on the menu and specific ingredients in each dish are not identified, it is difficult for students pursuing a plant-based diet to decide which side dish to eat. KUSA is conducting a survey on the demand for vegetarian items and making ingredient lists compulsory.
▲ Vegetarian menu provided at a school function. Provided by official Bbourichim Facebook page.
Examples to Follow
Of the more than 400 universities in the country, only three— Seoul National University (SNU), Dongguk University, and Sahmyook University (SYU) Seoul Campus—provide a vegetarian menu in their school cafeterias. However, even if there are vegetarian options, the high prices are still problematic.
Vegetarian networks and clubs are increasing in number in universities such as Ewha Womans University, and Sung Kyun Kwan University (SKKU). The number of vegetarians is on the rise for various reasons such as health, the environment, and the protection of animal rights. Compared with the social trend and population, school cafeterias lag behind. Because school cafeterias may be an indicator of how much schools and society in general care about vegetarians, the number and quality of the vegetarian options should be improved.
In France, where the total percentage of vegetarians is similar to Korea at two percent, student vegetarians are rightfully protected. French college cafeterias are run by Crous, a public organization under the Ministry of Education. Crous develops vegetarian menus for vegetarian students that are easily accessible. In addition, 62 percent of the universities in the United States (U.S.) have vegetarian cafeterias according to Money Today News.
What you eat is what you are. This saying is commonly used to emphasize and promote a healthy diet. It can also be interpreted from another perspective—the food that you choose to eat is a crucial part of your self-identity. For vegetarians, a plant-based diet is not just a preference or a habit. It is a display of their faith and beliefs. Lee commented, “A social atmosphere in which vegetarians and non-vegetarians can live in harmony is necessary. Understanding that vegetarianism is an issue of faith and a social movement, is important.”
The lack of awareness and consideration for vegetarians has created extreme social pressure and insufficient vegetarian options in restaurants. This silent violence should stop. There is still a long way to go to make this world a place where every single member of society can comfortably enjoy their meals and pursue their own lifestyle choices.