A vegan is defined as “a person who does not eat or use animal products”. Other more detailed definitions describe veganism as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”. Veganism is not a new topic in America and instead the movement is continuing to grow in the 21st century with the help of social media and group awareness. Even if being vegan is still surprising to some and still not the social norm, the community is continuing to grow rapidly thanks to the growing technology for advanced vegan products/food, being vegan now has never been easier! Even the USDA has curated a dietary plan for vegans and vegetarians as the demand is expanding.
|Vegan Bibimbap from Crazy Vegan Kitchen|
I ended up deciding to take on this new lifestyle choice after being exposed to multiple documentaries, personal video blogs, and medical websites speaking about the benefits of being vegan, both environmentally and personally. I decided to take on this lifestyle mainly for the purpose of animal rights and because I no longer want to participate in the cruelty of animal manufacturing and cruelty. Another reason was after learning about the negative environmental impact meat production played in the condition of our planet, I no longer wanted to participate in that either.
Of course another reason was the massive health benefits. After struggling my whole teen life with my relationship with food, veganism was a clear answer to me. I can eat in abundance any plant based foods and live a cleaner lifestyle has also encouraged me to exercise and take care of my body in every way I can. But in the middle of my research and inching closer to solidifying my new lifestyle decision, I had to stop for a second and think, “Will being vegan be harder for me because I’m Korean?”
I am Korean-American, which means I am Korean but was born and raised in America, to be more specific, in Southern California. Even if I was born in the States, I was never far away from my culture through the help of my family being close, the Korean community being quite large in California, and of course the abundance of Korean food and culture that has found it’s place here in California. I was blessed to be raised in an area where there’s a place called “Koreatown,” right here in Los Angeles, attend a middle school and high school with a variety of individuals of different races and backgrounds, and overall be in touch with my culture even if my country is on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Food is an extremely important part of Korean culture and food is not only about filling our stomachs but is socially and culturally tied together, especially among our older generation,
If you walk down the streets of Seoul, South Korea, or any major city in South Korea, there are food vendors everywhere. These food vendors sell all kinds of marinated meats, fish stews, rice cakes smothered in a spicy pepper sauce, and so much more. In Korean culture, a typical home meal is a bowl of rice, a bowl of some sort of soup/stew, a main meat or seafood dish, and of course an abundance of side dishes typically made with a vegetable base.
So why is it so difficult for Koreans to be vegan? Let me explain. The main base for many Korean soups/stews and dishes are meat or seafood. Anchovies are widely used in Korean soups to flavor water before adding different cuts of meat, vegetables, and sauces. Other stews and soups are flavored through cow or pig bone marrow. Korea's pride and joy and the most important and popular side dish is kimchi. Kimchi is a spicy pickled fermented cabbage (sometimes radish) that is rich in flavor and is used to refresh any dish and satisfy the eaters crunchy and spicy cravings. Kimchi is mainly plant based, but traditionally all kimchi is made with shrimp brine for flavor.
Of course, avoiding animal products in food is always possible, in Korean culture it may be more of a challenge but in this day and age, more companies and individuals are standing up to make veganism much more culturally diverse. Also, living in California as a Korean, there’s so much opportunity to make my own plant based Korean meals and I have this option available even when I’m out to eat. But like I mentioned before, this isn’t only about food, the main challenge is family.
Meat is still seen as a luxury item and an item of prosperity and wealth in Korean culture. With South Korea being a country of poverty not so long ago in history, my ancestors such as my grandparents see meat as a gift and blessing, and when they present it to me when I visit them, that meat and their cooking is an expression of their love and hard work and it is incredibly hard to reject the gift of meat despite my ethical beliefs. The vegan community is quite fixated on this idea that only animal rights matter and nothing should get in the way of that. While I do agree that we should be standing firm in protecting animal rights and speaking up for the condition of our planet, it is incredibly difficult to explain this to our elders.
However, anything is possible and there is always a way to be vegan. It may be more difficult for Asians but as studies in food continues to expand there are growing options for Asian vegans. Till then, the effort is what is the most important. We need to keep raising our voices and demand an expansion of Asian plant based cuisine. It’s incredible to see brands making Asian inspired plant based foods.
As I’m reaching the fourth month of my lifestyle change, I have found myself being much more creative with my food and easily eating Korean vegan food from home. During family social events, it has obviously been a challenge to bring up the topic of food. But as time passes, I just hope it’ll become smoother as the world becomes more comfortable and aware of the vegan lifestyle.
And for those of you who want to sample a delicious Vegan Korean Bibimbap from the Crazy Vegan Kitchen, click here.
- by Janis Ahn -