The vegetarian lifestyle has been portrayed in various forms including the Korean movie Little Forest and events such as the 2018 Vegetarian Film Festival that took place on Sept. 29. An increasing number of college students have become interested in choosing this alternative lifestyle for the protection of animal rights. As a result, many vegetarian clubs in universities have emerged to support vegetarianism.
A vegetarian club in Korea University, Ppuri:chim, has asked restaurants around Anam-dong to add vegetarian dishes to their menus. Their request was accepted by one Indian curry restaurant, resulting in the creation of a vegan curry.
“Even a steak house has vegetarian options if you go abroad,” said Lee Hye-soo, the president of a vegetarian-feminist club Pprui:chim in Korea University. “Restaurants in Korea, especially those near universities, should be able to provide broader options.”
Ewha is also working on activating vegetarianism. Solchan, a vegan club in Ewha, has created a map of vegetarian restaurants in front of the school to inform and encourage students searching for vegetarian meals. They also collaborated with Ewha Cats earlier this May and organized a campaign during chapel to promote vegetarianism and raise awareness of animal rights. As a result, changes were noticeable, as the College of Humanities provided mid-term snacks for vegan students separately from Oct. 10 to 11.
However, the challenges of living as a vegetarian university student in Korea still exist. The vegetarian buffet at Dongguk University costs 7,000 won, which is 2,000 won more expensive than the average non-vegetarian meal. Seoul National University also has a restaurant that provides vegetarian items, but the lowest price start from 7,000 won, nearly twice as expensive as any non-vegetarian menu option, which costs from 3,500 to 5,000 won.
Aside from the price, it is difficult to follow vegetarianism culturally as common Korean meals include meat in the forms of fish or pork for the main dish, and the broth of soups comes from animal bones or dried seafood. Also, eating pork belly or chicken after a club activity has been settled as a part of club culture for Korean university students.
The Korean Vegetarian Union estimates that vegetarians account for only one to two percent of the total Korean population. Due to the small population of vegetarians, food industries are cautious to take the risk of making vegetarian options. However, along with the growing numbers of college vegetarians, vegetarian clubs are demanding their rights to pursue vegetarianism in school.
“College students have trouble looking for vegetarian options that can also satisfy their budget,” Lee said. “That’s why schools should be able to provide less expensive vegetarian meals for everyone. As we tend to think that a meal becomes vegetarian by excluding protein-heavy meat, vegetarian meals are often mistaken for being unbalanced. However, ingredients including beans and tofu keep the meals nutritious.”
Lee also added that maintaining a vegetarian diet is not the only way to pursue vegetarianism.
“I think that one’s diet should not be the ultimate standard for judging a person’s morals,” Lee stated. “There are ways to follow vegetarianism other than sticking to a strict vegetarian diet, such as boycotting aquariums and animal fur or even drinking soy lattes. What matters is that you understand how animals are being exploited, so you try to consume fewer products that harm animals.”