Disgust over FMD gives boost to vegetarianism

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Disgust over FMD gives boost to vegetarianism

As worries about foot-and-mouth disease spread, vegetarianism is enjoying new popularity, changing Korea’s negative image of vegetarians as people who are overly picky or obsessed with health.

This trend was obvious at the cafeteria in the Seoul National University Music Department on the afternoon of Feb. 7. The cafeteria serves a vegetarian buffet with main dishes made of grains and vegetables. The menu included Korean corn pancakes, a mushroom and red pepper stir-fry, and rice cake soup. The soup was brewed with mushroom, instead of the conventional beef. There was no meat offered.

Kim Eun-jung, a 24-year-old senior in the Law Department, said, “I tried going vegetarian last year but failed, and recently went back after observing the shocking process of culling foot-and-mouth infected livestock.”

Even in her coffee, Kim said, she now prefers soy milk, made from soybeans rather than cow’s milk.

“I plan to eat here at least once a day because of environmental concerns,” said Kim.

The cafeteria opened last October and expected 150 customers a day, but it draws 250 customers a day even during the vacation period.

“I started being vegetarian for my health,” said Eugene Roh, 23, “and I like the food here because it’s not salty.”

In Korea, there are approximately 500,000 vegetarians, about one percent of the population. Those ranks are swelling due to the mad cow disease scare of 2008 and now the unstoppable spread of foot-and-mouth disease.

There are three main reasons why people choose to be vegetarian: a concern for the environment, protection of animals’ rights and for health reasons.

“Young people usually go vegetarian for the environment and animal rights, while older people do it for their health,” said Lee Won Bok, who heads the Korean Vegetarianism Union. “And many people have gone vegetarian after being shocked by scenes of unethical killing of livestock.”

The number of visitors to the Korean Vegetarianism Union Web site (www.vege.or.kr) rose four times after the media reported on foot-and-mouth disease and the mass cullings of cattle and pigs. The former average of 3,000 to 4,000 visitors per day jumped to 15,000.

There are 50 vegetarian restaurants operating in Seoul. As more people turn to vegetarianism, some go to group meetings and share tips on vegetarian recipes. Vegetarian clubs are already operating at Seoul National, Sogang and Hanyang universities. They usually have meetings at vegetarian restaurants near the schools and run seminars on vegetarianism.

Shim Joon-gyu, 27, a law student preparing for the bar exam, has been a vegetarian for three years.

“My fellow students and I have vegetarian meetings and eat lunch and dinner together,” she said.

By Lee Han-gil [enational@joongang.co.kr]
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