Jun 2, 2012

why koreans don't like vegetarians

I noticed that someone stumbled upon my blog by searching for "why koreans don't like vegetarians." I decided this deserves its own post.
To answer that statement, I wouldn't say that Koreans don't like vegetarians, but I most certainly think most Koreans don't understand vegetarians, or the concept of being vegetarian. Veganism would be even more confusing.

Buddhism is a popular religion in Korea, and there are plenty of temples around (which I love to visit) and they serve vegetarian food or temple food. Monks tend to follow vegetarianism, but the average person who follows Buddhism, or the average Korean, is not a vegetarian. I've known a few Koreans who are or were vegetarian, but all of them ate fish/were pescatarian (vegetarians that eat fish). I definitely came across a lot more vegetarians in Canada by far. Korea itself is not much of a vegetarian haven.

The main thing that has happened when I've mentioned that I'm vegetarian is I get a lot of confusion thrown my way and am asked what I eat. Often times Koreans don't consider ham, spam, odeng (fish cakes), or seafood in general to be meat, so it's a little tricky asking for things to be meat free. I usually have to be very specific and up on what I'm ordering to get it meat free. And sometimes people will just straight up not believe that I don't want meat and think they are just misunderstanding me. But things will often come with meat broth or fish sauce, it's pretty inescapable. I did a post on Korean food that can help with figuring out what to order as a vegetarian:
guide to vegetarian korean food

Sometimes Koreans' lack of understanding of vegetarianism has led them to not include me in school lunches/dinners or to offer me meat and nothing else, or to simply ignore that I'm even there. Yeah, there have been some uncomfortable situations because of it. But then some people have been really cool and helpful about it as well. It wasn't easy at first, but I'm at the point where it isn't a problem. The biggest issue is that when someone doesn't understand what vegetarianism is (and this isn't just a Korean thing), they won't ask me they'll just awkwardly try to figure it out on their own. In my experience in Korea they usually think I can't eat any Korean food and just do nothing (which equals there not being anything for me to eat), or I get a lot of fish or a salad composed entirely of lettuce. The best way for me to circumvent this is to tell them the loads of Korean food that is or can easily be vegetarian. That also dispels any potential thoughts that I don't like Korean food (which I actually love), because sometimes not liking Korean food can be misconstrued as not liking Korea...

And this isn't just a combination of me being foreign and vegetarian. My old school's principal was a vegetarian (he also ate fish) and when my school planned a dinner for all of the teachers, they went to a bulgogi (beef) restaurant. A place where you cook meat right at your table. Obviously he was unimpressed, but he did eat some meat, after proclaiming that he hates the smell of cooking meat and doesn't eat meat. The next school dinner was a hell of a lot more vegetarian friendly.

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