Most Koreans would consider anyone who asks their food in a restaurant without meat or egg fussy. But that is changing as more and more Koreans become vegetarians, not only out of love for animals but also out of concern about health and the environment. "A country can become a truly advanced nation only when it recognizes diversity and shows consideration for minorities," says Lee Won-bok, the president of the Korea Vegetarian Union, a non-profit organization. "Because our right to choose food is as important as the right to pursue happiness, it should be respected no matter what."
One common reason for people to decide to go vegetarian is a shocking childhood experience of seeing an animal butchered. But others become vegetarians for practical reasons -- they usually suffer from chronic diseases and health problems that need a low-cholesterol diet. Compared to foreign nations, more Koreans choose vegetarianism for personal reasons rather than public reasons like animal treatment and environmental protection.
Substitute foods for vegetarians who want to enjoy the feel of meat are becoming more widely available. Taiwan is famous for such substitute foods; many Taiwanese are vegetarian for religious reasons. This, combined with Chinese enthusiasm for delicious foods and the pleasure of eating, means the Taiwanese developed a variety of substitute foods for vegetarians. Taiwan-made soybean ham and sausages are easily found in Korea.
It is surprising how many substitute foods are available on internet shopping malls for vegetarians. They include vegetarian noodles, soybean cutlets, and soybean stew. Bakeries for vegetarians are also springing up. Vegelove Bakery makes bread without milk and eggs, and Sticky Fingers Bakery (stickyfingers.co.kr) does not even use sugar.
Vegetarians say that they usually go through several stages before becoming used to it. Beginners may start with soybean stew and cutlets and shop at Vegefood (vegefood.co.kr), which sell various instant dishes. For those who are quite used to vegetarianism, VegeLand (vegeland.com) may be a good place to shop. The internet store sells protein foods made of soybean and flour meat that can be cooked in various ways. If non-vegetarians should wonder why vegetarians eat substitute meat, it is because it takes time to change one's taste when it has been accustomed to meat.