Dine and dish, vegan style
Claire Harris was looking for a way to share her love of food and cooking with friends when the conversation at a dinner she was hosting turned to talk of her lifestyle. A longtime vegan from Austin, Texas, Harris had continued the practice in the three years since moving to Seoul, but found that many of the people at the dinner weren’t familiar with it. They were curious about what vegans ate and how they could integrate vegan practices into their own eating routines.
The event that grew out of that casual dinner party is the Seoul Vegan Potluck, and it’s now a place for people to gather and share vegan food, recipes and tips with other people living the lifestyle or who are just interested in eating healthier.
“I started Seoul Vegan Potluck as a way for me to share my passion with others while creating a positive environment centered on good food,” Harris said.
She hosted the first potluck last year in her apartment, but it soon grew too big to accommodate the number of attendees. It is now held in a different location each month, usually at a local eatery or pub, and often with a fun theme. Everyone prepares a vegan dish to share and has a chance to meet new people who share their interests.
“I was vegan for five years in the U.S.,” said attendee Sarah Van Winkle. “After moving to Korea in 2010, I stopped my vegan diet. Mostly it was my choice. Also, I didn’t want to socially isolate myself in Korea. Many social outings revolve around food. I wanted to be open-minded about a new culture and try as many dishes as possible.”
The potluck offers a smorgasbord of new foods and unexpected preparations, such as buffalo tofu poppers, chia pudding, fusion japchae, vegan queso and mac and “cheese.” The stews, desserts and nontraditional takes on classic meat dishes are mouth-watering, to say the least.
Attendees can also learn about new vegan offerings at restaurants, grocery items and recipes.
And with a growing number of Korean attendees, the event is a chance for both expats and Koreans to see what foreign vegan food looks and tastes like. They can share recipes and bond over common interests.
“The Seoul Vegan Potluck is not only the healthiest medley of nutrients to treat your body with, it is also the tastiest,” said attendee Paul Keelan. “It is a great event to explore your own culinary skills by sharing a favorite or experimental cooking recipe that synchronizes with each month’s unique theme and to enjoy eating all the delicious concoctions with a friendly crowd.”
But some attendees aren’t vegan at all — they’re just interested in trying or learning more about the vegan lifestyle.
“Although I’m not vegan or vegetarian, I was very attracted to the potluck idea,” said SVP regular Gemma Wardle. “I love to cook and share food with others that have the same interests. I have enjoyed the challenge of cooking without using animal products so much that we now regularly participate in Meatless Mondays.
“It’s amazing to find such a dedicated community coming together to share their interest. There have been lots of tips and ingredients I have learned about through attending the potluck, and I always look forward to the next one.”
For the next Vegan Potluck, look them up on Facebook.
To find out more about the group and get information about the next potluck, visit the Facebook page facebook.com/SeoulVeganPotluck or the group’s blog at seoulveganpotluck.blogspot.kr.
“You’re vegan? What can you eat here in Korea?” said with a grimace is often the first question one hears after declining a food offering because it contains animal products. “That’s pretty extreme” is usually the next utterance.
Veganism is a relatively new idea in Korea and can be hard for some to grasp. Still, it is slowly making its way into the culinary nomenclature here, and many people in Korea are “going vegan” for health, political and environmental reasons and as an extension of their support for animal rights.
The growing awareness of veganism and vegetarianism around the world has been fed in part by documentaries such as “Forks over Knives,” which aims to show that many ailments – from diabetes to cardiac arrest – can be prevented by eating a plant-based, whole-grain diet.
Elsewhere, there is growing evidence that the antibiotics and hormones in meat are directly related to the decline in public health, which has caused some people to shun meat products.
Not long ago, Bill Gates became one of the latest high-profile figures in recent memory to speak out about the non-sustainability of the meat industry. Writing on Mashable, he said, “The global population is on track to reach 9 billion by 2050. What are all those people going to eat? With billions of people adding more animal protein to their diets — meat consumption is expected to double by 2050 — it seems clear that arable land for raising livestock won’t be able to keep up.”
Being a vegan in Korea requires more planning, resourcefulness and time in the kitchen. As SVP regular Luana Munn said, “In Canada it was easy for me to be a vegetarian because, yes, we have the resources, but it is also socially accepted. I knew that moving to Korea was going to be a major adjustment for me.
“I really started to feel disconnected from my food, which is hard for someone who is incredibly interested in food issues and politics. I felt like I already had to sacrifice quite a bit of myself to live in Korea, and that enough was enough.”
But thankfully, there are more and more vegan options available here, and events like the Seoul Vegan Potluck have created a community of people interested in the lifestyle.
“I heard about the Seoul Vegan Potluck from a friend of mine,” Munn said. “And although I am not vegan, I knew that I would find a sense of community at the (Seoul Vegan Potluck) meetings. I do feel like I am a part of the community!”