The other 1% doesn’t have it easy in Korea

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The other 1% doesn’t have it easy in Korea

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People celebrate Vegetarian’s Day at Tomaster in Seogyo-dong, central Seoul. “I don’t have to feel like I’m being picky,” said Lee Seong-hee, an office worker who attended the celebration. [JoongAng Ilbo]


Tomaster, a vegetarian restaurant in Seogyo-dong, central Seoul, recently took part in Vegetarian’s Day on July 27, during which some 30 vegetarians gathered to share information on recipes and the best restaurants in town.

“It’s nice to be around other vegetarians,” said Lee Seong-hee, a 31-year-old office worker. “I don’t have to feel like I’m being picky or making others uncomfortable.”

Vegetarians in Korea don’t have it easy. While Lee said that her decision to adhere to a non-meat diet reflects her passion for animal rights and environmental preservation, she usually just says she wants meat taken out of the dish because of her health.

When she explains she is a vegetarian for personal reasons, people often react negatively and are annoyed by her requests, she said.

Despite the recent boom in healthy lifestyles, only about 1 percent of the population is vegetarian, according to the Korea Vegetarian Union. (In the United States, 5 percent of the population consider themselves vegetarians, according to a recent Gallup study.) And their biggest source of information comes from online and offline communities like Hanulbeot Vegetarian World, which has over 58,000 members.

“Usually it’s hard to find vegetarians around us,” said Kim Yun-il, the manager of Veggie Club, an online cafe on Web portal Naver. “That is why vegetarians join communities like ours and share information on vegetarian restaurants and how to keep a balanced nutritional diet.”

In fact, while many think a vegetarian diet is inherently healthy, it takes a significant amount of effort for vegetarians to consume sufficient vitamins and nutrients. An absence of meat can lead to the excessive use of chemical seasoning for good taste and overconsumption of carbohydrates to feel full. A lack of protein, calcium and iron are also common problems associated with the diet.

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“Vegetarians often lack calcium,” said Lee Gyeong-ok, a nutritionist at Gakhwa Middle School in Gwangju, south of Seoul, which offered vegetarian meals at its school cafeteria last year. “Dried vegetables like sweet potato stems, radish leaves and perilla powder, broccoli, kelp and brown rice are some of the products used in vegetarian meals that are rich in calcium.”

Tomaster plans to hold an event for vegetarians on the last Friday of every month, receiving applications in advance.

By Lee Ji-young [hkim@joongang.co.kr]
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