The other day, I was having lunch with a friend who had been a vegetarian before arriving to Korea. Although she had decided to become a non-vegetarian, the thought of eating meat still didn’t sit well with her consciousness. This was understandable.
We all have ideologies and beliefs that provide meaning to us. For many people, being a vegetarian is a huge part of their identity. It was for me. By choice, I was a vegetarian for 16 years of my life.
While I was a vegetarian, I enjoyed it. It was never really difficult for me as I always had easy access to a lot of vegetarian food while living in Canada. Thus, I never really thought about becoming a non-vegetarian. As the years passed, without questioning it, vegetarianism simply became a way of life for me.
But after 16 years, there was a huge shift in my life. My deep passion to explore the world lead me down a path, which would end-up questioning and re-evaluating some of my deepest values. One of them was vegetarianism.
I had left my mundane life in Canada to live in a completely new country and culture. I came to South Korea.
The Korean cuisine relies heavily on meat for its main dishes. Within a week, I started really feeling the effects of being a vegetarian in Korea. Every time I had a meal at a Korean restaurant with colleagues and friends, I was limited to one or two dishes. Meanwhile, Jason who was not a vegetarian would be trying new and interesting Korean foods. I would sit there feeling like I was missing out. As a vegetarian, I would not allow myself to try the new cuisine. On certain occasions, I actually felt so unsatisfied eating my plain rice and vegetables while others relished together in enjoying Korean food. However, despite the lack of food choices, sadness, and curiosity of trying new foods, I held on to my vegetarian ideals.
It is very difficult to change a belief system that has been with you for more than a decade. I tried to convince myself that I would survive in Korea as a vegetarian. And truthfully I could have but travel changed me!
About 3 months after arriving to Korea, Jason and I went to Japan with 2 friends for a few days. It was again so exciting to be in a completely new country and experience a new culture! Everyone was particularly thrilled to try authentic Japanese ramen. Trying real Japanese food in Japan, what an incredible experience that would be! However, I wouldn’t be able to try it. I was told the ramen contained meat-based broth. At that moment, I told myself it was okay, I would just find a Japanese vegetarian dish. We all spent the next 1.5 hours looking for vegetarian food. I ended up buying some fruit from a convenience store. It was a frustrating and useless ordeal seeking vegetarian food in Fukuoka, Japan.
I felt upset for several reasons. For me, everyone had sacrificed their precious time and energy. I had inconvenienced everyone, even though they politely said they didn’t mind. Moreover, I was in Japan, and was eating store bought fruit instead of unique Japanese food. I was missing out on my chance to eat authentic Japanese cuisine! Traveling to a foreign country, and not trying the dishes just didn’t sit well with me. I mulled all this over and waited patiently, as everyone else enjoyed and shared the new experience of trying real Japanese food.
It was after this particular trip to Japan, that I really started to think about my vegetarianism. I wrote myself a very lengthy essay about why I was a vegetarian. It was a long process, but to make a long story short, I eventually decided I had to give myself the freedom to eat meat. Why? In short, I knew I would regret traveling to exotic countries and denying myself the richness of the cuisines. Also, by becoming a non-vegetarian, I would be able to give myself the freedom to eat anything without being overwhelmingly concerned about whether a dish contained meat. I would avoid a lot of frustration, especially during my travels in countries where language barrier and limited vegetarian food would be an issue.
For me traveling is about having new experiences, and a big part of that is trying new foods. I turned that vegetarianism card over a long time ago and since then I have never looked back. Even today I love having a vegetarian diet, but having the option to try new dishes that contain meat is wonderful too. I have been very happy with my decision. If you are struggling with whether you should remain a vegetarian, really ask yourself why are you a vegetarian. Whatever choice you end up making, the important thing is it should make you happy.
Video: My favorite Korean Food