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  • P-ISSN0023-3900
  • E-ISSN2733-9343

Becoming a Vegetarian in Korea: The Sociocultural Implications of Vegetarian Diets in Korean Society

Korea Journal, (P)0023-3900; (E)2733-9343
2015, v.55 no.4, pp.111-135
https://doi.org/10.25024/kj.2015.55.4.111
(New School for Social Research)

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Abstract

This essay is a social psychological analysis of the meaning of and social pressures against vegetarianism in a highly collective cultural context. It postulates potential difficulties in social relationships as the real challenge in becoming a vegetarian in Korea. The research is based on data collected from participant observations and in-depth interviews conducted with 38 vegetarians in the Seoul metropolitan area in 2010–2011. Given the social importance placed on ordering and sharing similar meals together in order to foster intimate relationships and emotional bonds in Korea, vegetarianism can be considered deviant social behavior discordant with the nonvegetarian norm. In highly collective Korean society, it is regarded as a bad practice that disturbs harmony within the group, and vegetarians/vegans, especially those who are younger and occupy lower social positions, face enormous social pressures to yield to a conventional omnivorous diet, especially on occasions, such as a family gathering and a company dinner. While some people fail to maintain their vegetarian diet, many vegetarians/vegans try to cope with such social pressures by using various bargaining strategies, such as avoiding meal time, hiding their identity, giving an excuse, and doing routine chores for everyone else at the dinner table.

keywords
Vegetarianism food Korean culture collectivism conformity rankism

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