Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hope in sight for all us veggies in a veggie-less world.

Among the laundry list of things that makes me different from Koreans is the fact that I came here vegetarian.

..."came here vegetarian" being the operative phrase.

I found it really difficult to go by without eating meat here. Even things that seem to not have meat in them will often come with diced ham or other little shreds of beef. I can't tell you how many times I've had this conversation with a local (in both English and Korean):

Me: Does this have meat in it?

Waiter/co-teacher/Shop owner: No, do you want meat?

Me: No. Please no meat. I don't eat meat.

Waiter/co-teacher/Shop owner:  ...................

Me: (pointing to menu or saying the name of the dish over and over and making a huge 'X' symbol with my arms) This, meat, no. Meat, no. Meat... NO.

Waiter/co-teacher/Shop owner: Ok, ok.

... and 15 minutes later, I have a wonderful dish of meat-filled food.

My reasoning for not eating meat is multi-faceted, but the main pillar is because of factory farming (by the way, if you are reading this and haven't watched Food Inc. yet, you are virtually and morally obligated to do so by the end of the week). I asked my co-teachers about what countries export their meat to Korea, and was disappointed to find that the US is on this list. In short: the factory-farmed meat I want to avoid in the States is now travelling a further distance than before, makng it even less sustainable than it already was.

Although I do know (and seriously commend) a few vegetarians living here as foreign teachers, the fact is that, for me, I would be less comfortable eating absolutely NO meat because of my school staff and Korean friends. Sometimes, there is no meat-less option, and at least by eating chicken I have the ability to chew on something whilst sitting around with those who have a full pallete to work with. This is not my country. For me, it just seems polite.

A bummer? Sure. I would rather be vegetarian. And sometimes I even feel a little frustrated about what I  can only refer to as being "force-fed meat" (see the example conversation, above). But sometimes that's part of cultural competency, especially in a professional atmosphere. It wasn't a choice I was thrilled about, but since I have only been vegetarian for a couple years, it was a change my body could make to better adapt to the life I have here.

However, I did find this yesterday, through a fellow foreign teacher, and thought it was definitely worth sharing:

Aeris Kitchen is a recipe blog that has a Korean cooking component for [lacto ovo] vegetarian dishes. Despite the content of this post, I do want to make it clear that there are vegetarian options here on occasion, and they are pretty basic (and thus easy to make). Aeris Kitchen makes it easy to find and re-create vegetarian Korean dishes, whether you are living abroad or back at home. I know I'll be using it when I go back to the States.

UPDATE ON THE VEGGIE FRONT: I don't know what to say, but after TEN months of being at my school and eating in the cafeteria daily, today my co-teacher decided to tell the lunch ladies I don't eat meat. Today. Right before I went to publish this blog post. I had just been eating around the meat and giving the extra to the school staff (very Korean, I know), but now the lunch ladies are replacing my meat with extra veggies. On today of all days. Sometimes, the 'ask and you shall receive' thing totally applies.
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