According to a survey conducted by the Korea Vegan Union (KVU), Korea’s vegetarian population was 2.5 million in 2021. As people pursue ethical and environmental consumption, veganism to stop animal exploitation is becoming a trend. Therefore, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) would like to introduce what veganism is and how we can practice it.
What Is Veganism?
Veganism, which means more than eating just a vegetarian diet, refers to a philosophy and way of vegan life that seeks to eliminate all forms of abuse of animals. Vegetarianism varies from flexitarian that occasionally goes on vegetarian diets to veganism. However, the vegan diet does not just mean not eating only meat and fish but also dairy products and eggs, too, which is also related to “ethical consumption,” a consumer trend that considers the effects of consumption on other humans, animals, and the environment. Though it has not been long since the word vegan first appeared, the lifestyle of veganism has existed since ancient times. In old India, where Buddhism flourished, all monks practiced vegetarianism to stop killing living organisms. In Western societies, there has been discussion about animal rights since the times of Pythagoras. Pythagoras, who believed in the theory of reincarnation, practiced vegetarianism for the first time in Western history. Later, in 1944, British animal advocate Donald Watson first created the word vegan after founding The Vegan News and The Vegan Society. There was a controversy among vegetarians in England over whether vegetarians should include dairy and eggs in their diets. However, Watson wanted to separate vegetarians who do not eat dairy and eggs from others. Therefore, he coined the word vegan with the first and the last part of the word, vegetarian, meaning “the beginning and end of vegetarian.” For ethical motivation, Watson also said, “We can clearly see that our present civilization is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilizations were built on the exploitation of slaves.” From ancient times to modern times, veganism has been opposing animal exploitation. Recently, there has been a growing movement to practice veganism as people are interested in animal rights. With the growth of vegetarians, businesses are also expanding vegan product markets.
|Type of Vegetarians (tistory.com)|
Expansion of Vegan Businesses
As the vegetarian population grows, they are the driving force of the expanding vegan market. In addition, increasing ethical consumers are also the primary buyer of vegan products. As a result, companies entering the vegan market are increasing due to these active consumers. Unlike in the past, when vegan businesses were limited to the food industry, companies are now expanding to other products related to animal welfare, like the fashion and cosmetic industries. Moreover, interest in vegan or cruelty-free certifications that verify that no animal experimentation has taken place is rising. In the case of the fashion industry, efforts to make ethical clothes are accelerating as the brand image quickly leads to purchases. For example, Chanel and Burberry have stopped using animal fur in their collections with the spread of vegan fashion. Moreover, vegan leather products made of hanji, pineapple, and apple peel are gaining popularity as alternatives to animal leather in the fashion industry. Beyond cruelty-free, movements toward vegan cosmetics are increasing in the cosmetic industry as consumers look for cosmetics with no animal products. For example, Amore Pacific, a cosmetic manufacturing firm in Korea, released its vegan beauty brand Enough-Project in 2020. In addition, they introduced seven kinds of vegan cosmetics that do not use animal-derived ingredients.
This Is Veganism
Many think vegan diets can cause nutritional deficiencies, but this is not true. Societies for nutrition in the United States and the United Kingdom stressed that balanced plantbaseddiets are not nutritionally problematic but prevent various diseases. According to a 2020 Harvard Medical University study, vegetarians have a low risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Especially in the case of CVD, vegetarians have a 19-25% lower risk of death than carnivores. However, these health benefits assume that the vegan diet is “well-balanced.” An unbalanced plant-based diet can cause side effects due to a lack of nutrition. A well-balanced vegan diet includes enough consumption of vegetable nutrients such as protein, fat, vitamin B12, omega-3, and vitamin D. Therefore, the vegan menu should consist of beans, nuts, and seaweed, not only just fruits and vegetables. Beans and nuts contain protein, iron, and zinc that prevent osteoporosis and deterioration of the immune system. In particular, seaweed contains vitamin B12, which prevents permanent nerve damage. Recently, many health supplements compensate for the deficiency of nutrients in vegan foods, further reducing the risk of nutritional imbalance. For example, Vegantamin, a health supplement brand that uses only plant-derived ingredients, allows vegans to intake vitamins without consuming meat.
Veganism is rising because it not only cares about personal health but also animals, the environment, and even humanity. First, the ethical problem of exploiting animals calls for veganism. Animals are used within their short lives on a factory farm that aims for maximum meat production at minimum cost. Dairy cows get pregnant every year by force with artificial insemination to produce milk, and chickens lay eggs in a cramped space smaller than an A4-sized paper. Peter Singer, a bioethicist at the University of Melbourne, argues for eliminating factory farms, saying, “Pleasures and pains of similar intensity and duration should be given equal weight, whether humans or animals experience them.” In addition, veganism can also be a reason for environmental problems. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the livestock industry significantly cause deforestation. About 90% of deforestation in the Amazon and Australia is done to raise livestock and cultivate grains to feed livestock. The increase in livestock industries that produce greenhouse gases and the decrease in the forests accelerate climate change. However, the scale of feed grain, which amounts to 37% of total agricultural production, is currently exceeding the consumption amount of food grain. Suppose it is possible to reduce the size of the livestock industry. Then, it will be possible to expand the extent of food grain and construct food security to solve the starvation problem. In the case of the fisheries, the plastics and styrofoam garbage used in fish farming become microplastics; this causes a rapid decrease in the diversity of marine species. According to the Living Planet Report 2020 of the World Wide Fund for Nature, the fish industry and marine aquaculture caused marine biodiversity loss to increase by 84% compared to the 1970s. As Korea’s fishery production is also rising, veganism can be another answer to marine environmental problems.
|Vegan Leathers (fashionn.com)|
Become a Vegan
According to a survey conducted by the Humane Research Council, an American animal rights group, 84% of people give up being a vegetarian within a year; among them, 43% of people give up because maintaining a plant-based diet is challenging. Therefore, starting a “loose vegetarian” diet can be helpful to being a sustainable vegetarian. Loose vegetarian means becoming a flexitarian who eats meat occasionally. Recently, flexitarians who eat meat only through broth and seasonings have become sustainable vegetarians in Korea. However, the most important thing is to practice veganism rather than being a “perfect” vegan. Therefore, it is crucial to gradually practice a vegetarian diet, further lowering the entry barrier. Lee Hyun-joo, Head of the Korean branch of “Meat Free Monday,” says, “I recommend having an interest in veganism by watching over changes for a month.”
Watson initially expected people to exclude animal exploitation at the maximum within a practical and possible level. However, many people think of veganism as a strict and extreme level of vegetarianism. Even though vegans are not perfectionists, non-vegans or even vegans themselves demand harsh standards for being vegan - this is bigotry toward veganism. People do not necessarily have to be pure vegetarians. Being a perfect vegan in Korea is challenging, where meat consumption dominates society. It is wrong to try to separate veganism by the dichotomy of perfection and nonperfectnessbecause even if we practice veganism, we might sometimes fail. Actress Lee Ha-nui, a Pesco vegetarian or pescetarian, appealed to be a free vegetarian, disclosing on her Instagram account that “The obsession of being a perfect vegetarian restricted me.” Therefore, it is essential to understand and internalize the philosophy of veganism and practice it as much as possible.
|Meat Free Monday Campaign (meatfreemonday.co.kr)|
Korea’s vegetarian population has increased explosively with the great movement toward veganism. However, the barrier is still high to becoming a vegetarian in reality. It may be prejudices or the vegetarian diet itself. However, if you understand veganism now, how about trying vegetarianism tonight?
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