Vegetarian in Korea

One of the biggest challenges I have living in Korea is finding food I can eat that wasn’t prepared in my own kitchen. Living in a small city by Korean standards, my options for eating out tend to be pretty limited. After nearly five months of living in Jinju, I’ve become used to it and have really grown my culinary skills. I guess I’m lucky that I’ve always loved to cook.

I stopped eating meat nearly two and a half years ago for many reasons, the biggest one being my health. The hormones pumped into livestock exacerbated some already existing health problems and I decided to see how my health would improve without it. I also watched one too many documentaries on industrial agriculture and decided that was not something I wanted any part in. I knew when I moved abroad, my feelings wouldn’t change and that I would somehow find a way to stay true to my beliefs and do whats best for my health.

There are many reasons that it’s difficult to find vegetarian meals in Korea, the biggest one being the sheer prevalence of meat. Similar to America, most dishes are centered around meat. In fact, many restaurants do not offer any options without meat, and not knowing the language makes it difficult to ask for something without it.

Another reason it’s difficult is how common hidden meat ingredients are. Soups are typically made with some type of animal or fish stock, and different types of fish sauces are used to flavor foods, so even something that is seemingly vegetarian-friendly might not be. What makes this more difficult is that many people tend to forget that these ingredients are not vegetarian-friendly.

Saladen avocado salad with sesame dressing

But although it’s hard, I have found a way to make it work. Typically, I just prepare my own food at home, picking up staples at the grocery store and outdoor market, or ordering hard to find ingredients online. Since moving, I’ve probably learned how to prepare tofu 50 different ways. I’ve also found some really great places around Jinju for when Subway just isn’t cutting it. So whether its homemade chana masala or a hearty salad from Saladen, being vegetarian in Korea really isn’t that bad.

A Day on the Farm

Back in July, I had the opportunity to visit my friend Blyss in Ithaca, New York where she is doing summer research with the Boyce Thompson Institute and Cornell University. Knowing I didn’t have much time left to spend with her, I took the short road trip for the weekend and had an amazing time.

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Blyss is one of my absolute best friends. She’s is cool, compassionate, and has a deep concern for the environment and living things, which is the thing that really forged out best friend bond. So when I visited her, it was only natural that we would journey to the local farm animal sanctuary a few towns over. Originally, we had planned to go hiking and swimming at Watkins Glen, but a few quick Google searches told us that there was also a sanctuary in that area, which is something we had wanted to do together for quite some time.

Farm Sanctuary encompasses 271 acres and is home to over 500 farm animals, all rescued from a life of pain and suffering. Most days, you can take a tour of the farm, led by one of their guides. The tour includes seeing cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and goats, all of which have their own unique personalities.

 

Even though it was a scorching hot day, Blyss and I loved every moment we spent on the farm. The animals brightened my day, and reminded me of all the reasons I decided to stop consuming meat and animal products. Even on the days it seems hard, the days I am craving cheese like you would not believe, and on the days I go to a restaurant and the only thing I can eat are french fries, it is worth it. Like people, animals can experience a wide range of emotions– but when they are living in the conditions prevalent in agribusiness, these beautiful creatures feel limited emotions– fear, anxiety, apprehension, and pain. By spending an afternoon with these animals, I was reassured that all the challenges of eating vegan are beyond worth it.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: 2017

I began 2017 with high hopes that it would finally be my year. I was going to graduate college, hopefully find a job I love, reclaim my personal fitness, and cultivate loving and nurturing relationships. After the whirlwind year I had in 2016, I truly believed the only way to go was up.

2016 had not been good to me. Between health problems and eight months of intense fighting before ending a long-term relationship over infidelity, it had been a rough year. Top it off with an overload of upper-level classes and increased responsibilities as a resident assistant, all while battling the demons that come along with declining mental health, and you have the recipe for a complete dumpster fire year. I really have no other way to describe it.

So when 2017 started off with my car breaking down, I felt incredibly resentful. How much more could I handle? Next came the ending of my first “serious” relationship since my break-up: one that I rushed into too quickly, developed feelings too strongly, and projected my subconscious desire to be the other half of someone else because it was all I had known for the past three years.

But then it all began an upward swing. I spent an incredible amount of time with friends (hello, Snowpocolypse), dove into my work, and vowed to enjoy my last semester of college. When I finally walked across the stage at graduation decked out in all of my regalia, Summa Cum Laude, I finally realized the culmunation of all I had achieved. I had been an active participant in my education. It was also this moment when I finally realized where my path in life was taking me: Academia. Sure, I wasn’t going to graduate school immediately in the fall, but I would get there, one way or another. It was my passion, my joy, and the thing I always took the most pride in. So when I got hired in higher education three months later, I was overjoyed. Better yet, my job allowed me to travel. I was able to visit cities I had never been to, like Baltimore and Wilmington. I also walked on the beach in early November, feeling completely at peace with where I was.

I also made other huge steps this year. I moved into my own apartment. I switched to my own cell phone plan. I began adopting a vegan diet.

So while 2017 may have been a rough start for me, I believe this year took me exactly where I needed to be. My personal growth has been astounding. The people who have lifted me up over and over again I’m sure have not failed to feel their worth to me. And maybe I can’t talk about a significant other when I attend holiday gatherings, which seems to always be a hot topic at the dinner table, but I can talk about where I see my life going, not just in the next year, but in the next five years. And I couldn’t be more excited to keep traveling down that path.