Eating light, Eating right

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Eating light, Eating right

Gandhi said the more we fast, the less distance we'll have to reach spiritual purity.

The Minus Club says the less we eat, the more we'll feel like someone 20 years younger.

The Minus Club?

It began in the spring of 2001 as an online community, founded by Son Young-ki, a shy, celery-stalk thin Chinese medicine practitioner. The club espouses three main principles to regain body and spirit:

No meat.

No wheat.

No processed foods.

The Minus Club regards the above three foodstuffs as "polluted." As a substitute, the Minus Club encourages adherents to eat organic vegetables and grains, with an emphasis on "light eating."

The club's name is derived from subtracting toxic and unnecessary items from our bodies as part of a healthy diet management.

"Lessening the intake is a way of cleansing our body of redundant food," Mr. Son says. "It's making our bodies become closer to nature."

Mr. Son says that too many people have a tendency to scramble for health supplements and exotic items to improve their well-being. Bad thinking.

"In Europe, the perfume industry sprung up as a result of people not washing themselves enough," he says in his office in Anguk-dong. "People applied perfume to get rid of their smell, when in fact the body odor mixed with the perfume gave off a worse stench. That to me parallels people's perspective on health today. These days, people run off to far places in the world looking for vital foods or nourishment that will give them longevity or good health. Yet they don't seem to realize that simply consuming less food that is harmful is more critical than eating health foods and supplements, just as bathing comes before perfuming."

The club's members, who range from doctors to housewives to students, have met regularly offline, at Mr. Son's office, or gone on field trips, to try out such exotic tasks as picking wormwood, a flowery plant that is said to be good for women. Members have held gatherings to listen to lectures on Chinese medicine and herbal pillow-making -- stuffing a cloth bag with dried chrysanthemums, plums and peppermint for an aromatherapeutic effect. Most of the 6,000-plus members of the Minus Club are in their 20s and 30s. Ninety percent are women. As the membership has grown, fewer offline meetings have been held.

Members rave both online and offline about the positive impact of minding the simple dietary precepts of the club. Yoo Seung-eun, 31, says that for years she suffered from such maladies as chronic indigestion, nasal infections and general fatigue. By chance she came upon Mr. Son's teachings online, and after following them for three or four months, she noticed great changes.

"First, my complexion became much clearer," Ms. Yoo says. "Then, excess fat on my body turned into leaner muscles. I've got a lot more stamina now than I had before."

She says that it is difficult to go without eating meat when she dines with colleagues. So once a month, she compromises by splurging on, say, galbi.

"It's not easy to carry out the three principles in today's working environment," she says.

These principles may be a tough act to follow given that modern Koreans have a tendency for eating huge quantities of foods. And no meat, no wheat, no processed foods rules out pretty much every restaurant in the city. Variety is considered necessary in most eateries, and vegetarian cafes are rare. Another member, Kim Yun-gon, 47, agrees that the Minus Club's code may not be everybody's idea of a good time. "Kids generally don't comply because they love fast food. But as an adult, I believe there are definitely benefits."

Mr. Kim says his biggest change since joining is that he now climbs mountains.

For nonmembers, the Minus Club is not a plus. "There are many components to staying fit, such as eating regularly, exercising and getting a good night's sleep, among others. Instead of cutting down what you eat, I think these components create synergy when combined," says Kwon Jae-yung, an IT consultant and consumer of everything from Big Macs to veggie dishes made by monks. "People who restrict what they eat are just too lazy to exercise. It's like trying to lose weight by not eating -- without doing any activity at all."

Mr. Son says the club's message of eating less is not meant to enforce a strict regimen of self-control over food. He says he dislikes what he terms a "class struggle among eaters."

"I abhor it when vegetarians look down upon meat eaters and vice versa. Eating habits are a matter of choice and I have no wish to enforce my opinions upon people who deem the practice unnecessary. I merely encourage patients, people who are suffering from ailments, to try it. No one should ever patronize others' eating habits"

Son Young-ki writes books and pens columns on his Web site. He's often referred to as an eccentric.

"Truth be told, I am eccentric, and I don't mind being termed that," says Mr. Son, who is in his early 30s. His two books are "A Don't-Eat Health Guide," and "I Am a Grass-Eating Chinese Medicine Practitioner."

He describes himself as an introvert. "Growing up, I enjoyed being alone more than associating with other people." His parents urged him to study Chinese medicine because it was thought to be a stable profession, and he enrolled at Kyungsan University near Daegu, Gyeongsang province. During college, Mr. Son went to see a well-known Chinese medicine practitioner in Anyang named Ryu Hee-young. Mr. Son had been suffering from xerophthalmia, a chronic dryness of the eyes. Within seconds Mr. Rhu said something that dramatically altered Mr. Son's life. "Dr. Ryu looked at me and said, 'You like eating meat, don't you?' At that moment, I was transformed into a vegetarian," says Mr. Son.

For two years, Mr. Son served an apprenticeship under Mr. Ryu. Mr. Son says that everything he teaches and advocates now stems from the training he did with the older practitioner.

"These days, I'm wary about doing interviews because there are interest groups involved in what I am saying," says Mr. Son. "Animal farmers and wheat producers can suffer declining sales as a result of my beliefs."

Mr. Son also worries that the club's name, "Minus," gives off a negative connotation. "I'm looking for something that'll have a positive ring to what I preach."

by Choi Jie-ho
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