Interview with Choi Min young, President of Veggie Meal.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY LEE HA-YUN
THREE. AMONGST 424 universities in Korea, only three universities, Sahmyook University, Dongguk University and Seoul National University (SNU) provide a vegetarian menu in their university cafeteria. While Sahmyook University, as a Seventh-day Adventist institution, and Dongguk University, as a Buddhist University, provide a vegetarian option autonomously, SNU adopted the vegetarian menu as a result of hard-fought student activism. The SNU vegetarian student club *Kong-pat*, formed in 2009, endeavored to incorporate vegetarian menu into university cafeterias by conducting student surveys and persuading the university nutritionist. *Kong-pat*’s incessant activity resulted in the adoption of vegetarian menu in SNU student cafeterias from October 2010.
Vegetarianism is a way of life that needs much understanding and tolerance in Korean universities. As stated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. In this context, all forms of vegetarianism need acceptance and vegetarians should not suffer from discrimination because of their diet restrictions.
Korea Vegetarian Union (KUV) estimates 2-3% of the Korean population to be vegetarians and 20-30% to be vegetarian-friendly population, who enjoys and tries to have vegetarian meals. Concept of vegetarianism and veganism has not been embraced in Korean cuisine culture. Often there is no vegetarian menu available in restaurants. Even if you opt for non-meat cuisines, soups and broths would have been made with bits of meat or seafood. The most basic Korean traditional side dish, kimchi contains sauces made from fermented, pickled seafood. Korean cuisine is a landmine of animal-based sauces and a general meat-oriented dining culture.
However vegetarianism is being recognized as a way of life in university communities as they work to accommodate the needs of vegetarians. In the first semester of 2017, Korea University General Student Council prepared ciabatta for vegan students as their exam-period snack. Similarly, in Ewha Women’s University, vegetarian student club *Sol-chan* formed to make a vegetarian-friendly eateries map close to campus. *Sol-chan* also aims to incorporate a vegetarian menu in their university cafeteria, following the example of SNU. Although there is no official vegetarian student club at Yonsei University, there is an active vegetarian community called Veggie Meal. Established recently, Veggie Meal members get together to explore vegetarian restaurants around campus.
Yonsei University requires all freshmen and some Underwood International College (UIC) students to live in Yonsei International Campus as part of their Residential College Program. This requirement further necessitates the adoption of vegetarian menu into school cafeteria. *Nanul-saem* provides a vegetarian menu called *so-ban* during lunch times but even this menu is unfit for vegan students as it contains seafood and dairy. A vegetable-based salad bar or buffet will perhaps better cater for various kinds of vegetarianism. Furthermore, when student communities dine out, the general course is to go to a BBQ restaurant, where the menu is meat-oriented and does not cater for vegetarians. More precision and consideration is required to accommodate the needs of vegetarians in selection of dinner restaurants and within university cafeterias.
Vegetarianism is a way of life. Within many Korean universities active vegetarian communities are advocating for their rights to non-discrimination. Reciprocally, universities are embracing their rights by adopting vegetarian menus into their university cafeteria and by taking heed in their choice of snacks or formal dinners. Yonsei University should follow suit and strive to further respect and cater for its vegetarian community.
*Box 1: Interview with Choi Min-young, President of Veggie Meal
*The Yonsei Annals* interviewed Yonsei University vegetarian community, Veggie Meal’s President Choi Min-young (Soph., Dept. of German Language & Lit.)
*Annals*: What motivated you to found Veggie Meal?
Choi: It was really a spontaneous thought. I uploaded a piece of writing suggesting a vegetarian community on Yonsei Everytime* and some responded positively. Forming a vegetarian community has allowed us to depend on each other. It is difficult to be a vegetarian in Korean society so we try to encourage each other to go on.
*Annals*: How many members are in Veggie Meal and what kind of vegetarianism do they practice?
Choi: Currently there are 9 members. Most of them are pescotarians, about two members are vegans. I myself am a pescotarian and ultimately aim to turn full vegan. Veggie Meal also have some non-vegetarian members. We accepted people who are generally interested in vegetarianism in order to enhance people’s perception of vegetarianism.
*Annals*: As a university student what is the most difficult part of being vegetarian? Isn’t it hard for vegetarians to explain their beliefs?
Choi: Probably the after parties and general social occasions with friends or in student clubs. The general course is to go to a BBQ restaurant which does not cater for vegetarians. Definitely it is hard to come out as a vegetarian. I have coined coming out as a vegetarian,“*cham*-ing out”**. It is especially hard to tell acquaintances you’ve known before becoming a vegetarian that my diet has changed significantly.
*Annals*: Do you think Yonsei University accommodates for its vegetarian students?
Choi: Not at all. Yonsei university cafeterias have no vegetarian menu. Recently I saw an A4 piece of paper stuck in a discreet place in a university cafeteria. The paper noted “Please tell the cook beforehand if you are a vegetarian. Those who do not consume pork, please notify the cook.” In my perspective it is hard for students to know who the cook is and the moment you order, it goes into the kitchen. I don’t see how you can tell the cook. It is just a superficial act. Also the absence of the General Student Council means there is no place to forward the vegetarian menu agenda. There are few universities nationwide that provide a vegetarian menu in their cafeteria. I know Korea University and Dongguk University does. Seoul National University provides a vegetarian buffet once a week too.
*Annals*: Lastly, what is the fundamental reason vegetarians should be respected?
Choi: I would quote from the Korea University vegetarian student club, “root-*chim*”. “Respect for vegetarianism is respecting our right to eat.” Vegetarianism is a way of life that does not harm anyone. Vegetarianism has not been acknowledged (I believe) due to indifference.
*Everytime: app that allow university students to form communities, check lesson schedules and access useful information.
**Chaming-out: Combination of word *cahe-sik*, meaning vegetarianism and coming out. Means coming out as a vegetarian.