The number of on-campus vegetarians in Korea is increasing, along with an acute, growing awareness of animal rights. According to the Korean Vegetarian Union (KVU), only 1 percent of the Korean population is vegetarian while university students make up 25 percent of the vegetarian population.
In the case of Korea University, the Student Government Association (SGA) prepared a vegan dish for vegan students. In consideration of vegan students who have not been able to enjoy previous snacks that contain ingredients such as eggs and butter, this year the SGA prepared vegan ciabatta, along with other conventional snacks.
Vegetarianism is no longer considered a fastidious eating habit, but a value. Similarly, more and more universities are beginning to broaden the range of vegetarian menus by establishing vegetarian restaurants on campuses.
There have been various efforts to highlight the voices of vegetarians in universities. For example, Seoul National University (SNU) and Dongguk University have specialized in vegetarian buffets. The buffets target not only vegetarians, but also students who are trying to eat healthy food. Korea University’s vegetarian club, Bburri Chim, established an Indian restaurant in Anam that sells vegan curry.
Ewha jumped into this social trend in 2016. Cho Kyung-rim, a sophomore from the Department of Philosophy, created a vegetarian club, Solchan. Currently with nine members, Solchan investigates animal rights, learns how to make vegetarian dishes and plans to make a map of vegetarian restaurants near the campus for fellow vegetarians.
Despite such efforts, vegetarians are still a minority in Korea, and students have confided the difficulties of finding a vegetarian restaurant. Cho expressed difficulties that she faces as a vegetarian in Ewha.
“There are no appropriate vegetarian menus on campus,” she said. “Our menu is limited to a salad franchise, Salady. Within the school cafeteria it is hard to eat anything for a vegetarian, as it is difficult to ask the chefs to take out meat in most dishes.”
Not only is finding vegetarian dishes or specialized restaurants a difficult task, but managing the high cost is also a burden. Students of Dongguk and Seoul National University (SNU) expressed dismay that the vegetarian buffet menus are twice the usual price of other school menus that range from 2,500 to 4,000 won.
Universities have explained that it is difficult to provide various vegetarian dishes within the average menu price of 7,000 won. In addition, they said that they would face a budget deficit as such dishes would attract a smaller number of consumers compared to other cafeteria dishes.
Kim Jung-in, a member of Solchan, railed against the expense of vegetarian dishes. She criticized that the problem lies not in the cost of vegetarian dishes themselves but rather in the steadily falling price of meat due to mass slaughter of livestock.
Such criticism leads to another issue that many vegetarians concern themselves with: animal rights. Lee Won-bok, the head executive of the KVU, pointed out that the excessive consumption of meat in Korea is threatening animal rights.
“Large numbers of livestock are killed by machinery, which raises horrendous problem of animal abuse,” Lee said. “I hope society decreases the amount of meat consumed, works on becoming eco-friendly, and raises more awareness on animal rights.”
In consideration of the high prices that vegetarian students are suffering from, Lee said the school should take some responsibility.
“If it is hard for a university to provide a specialized vegetarian restaurant, then they should at least add one or two extra vegetarian dishes in their cafeterias,” Lee suggested. “Choosing what food to eat is a student’s freedom and right. Universities must nurture a democratic environment for individuals with various lifesytles and eating habits.”
Vegetarian students continue to speak up for their rights while more and more universities are planning to establish vegetarian clubs. As universities also plan to implement vegetarian dishes or restaurants on campus, improvement on this issue is expected.