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Vegetarianism on the rise in South Korea

A special segment aired on South Korea’s TV Chosun News last night about how vegetarianism is becoming more mainstream. They estimate that roughly 1 million people or just under 2% of the population is now vegetarian. The market for plant-based food products is growing steadily, and it’s not just vegetarians who are buying them. Consumers are becoming more aware of how their purchasing habits impact the world around them and are making a conscious effort to reduce their intake of animal foods.

Plant-based food startups such as The Plant Eat, which recently attracted 1.5 billion won in investment, are now beginning to face competition from large conglomerates who view the plant-based food space as a huge future revenue opportunity. Large food companies such as CJ Cheiljedang are working on plant-based food products in their R&D centers and Dongwon F&B is now distributing Beyond Meat products online in their shop, on Coupang and in offline in Emarts around the country. ÜBERWOOD, a popular vegan hair-care brand from Germany, also now has a presence in South Korea. Plant-based meal delivery services such as Sprout, which now delivers nationwide on a weekly basis and has on-demand options available in Seoul, are flourishing.

More and more celebrities are showing interest in vegetarianism and meat reduction including singer Hyori Lee who is well-known as an animal lover and actress Soojung Lim who first started veganism because of health problems. A quick search of the Korean hashtag for vegan in Instagram yields 180,000 entries and even Korean universities like Seoul National University and Dongguk university provide vegetarian meals and have vegan clubs on campus. Mobile applications such as Happy Cow and Green Feed/비건한끼 (beta) make finding vegan restaurant options easier.

Despite this, the pressure to conform often keeps vegetarians silent on their eating preferences during social activities at work, with friends or even with their families. Some choose to consume fish as a compromise that will keep those around them happy. Some members of the community even use the word “coming out” indicating that it might be just as tough to reveal you are vegan as it is to come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

TV Chosun News (Korean only, subtitles coming soon)

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