Sunday, May 29, 2011
Yoon-nyeong... Welcome Aboard!
Yoon-Nyeong is one of the more thoughtful students in our Saturday class. Through her seeming fascination with all things British, she has developed a fascinating mix of a Manchester/Seoul accent whenever she speaks English. It's quite wonderful. But, I am more impressed with her confidence and willingness to express her opinion. Her essays impress, and she's not afraid to speak her mind in class.
Anyway, though I may have mentioned a while back that I was leading a class about vegetarianism as a "hot topic" about a month ago, I don't believe I ever followed-up with reporting the results.
The two will come together in a second.
I began class that day by serving each student a helping of French Bread and my vegetarian chili which I had shopped for, prepared, and carted-down to Sindorim an hour away that morning. I had kind of expected students to be a bit hesitant, but I was disappointed in the fact that most of them were really turned-off with the dish.
I'm not going to waste a great deal of time defending my vegetarian chili, but I will say with confidence that them's some good eats! Not for my students, though. Many just picked at their bowls, nobody asked for a second helping, and I ended-up throwing-out a LOT of food at the end of the day, though I did of course keep what was in my pot. "Take what you need, but eat what you take..."
Turns out that most Koreans just don't dig on beans, which make up the vast majority of my chili's contents. But still, man - you ate steamed silkworm larvae as a child - you can surely stomach some beans. Oh well, to each, his/her own.
We looked at a lot of stuff that day - alternative proteins, Moby essays, statements on the subject from notable scientists, entertainers, and "moral leaders" of the world, and we did our best to get an actual discussion going as well. In the end, most people were pretty much sticking to the tried and true Korean stance of simply being a carnivore for life. Fair enough, I guess, but it was then time to bring out the big guns.
I prefaced the short documentary with the admission that I never like to traumatize my students, but that this was perhaps the best way to show why many people have made the choice to become vegetarian. As Sir Paul McCartney once said, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarian."
That's large-scale wishful thinking, but since I lacked the time in this class to explore a significant slaughterhouse exposé in John Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, we made due with a tremendously harrowing and graphic 12 minute short about animal abuse on farms and slaughterhouses. The film is called "Meet your Meat" , it's been around for a while, and it's probably still one of the best tools PETA has at its disposal for convincing meat eaters to make a different choice.
This is, of course, hard stuff to watch, but as PETA would argue (and it's pretty hard to disagree) if you can watch this and still eat meat, that's certainly your choice, but if you get half-way through and turn it off because you can't deal with it, and then you head out for a dinner of baby back ribs that same night, then you're not being entirely honest with yourself.
Anyway, I thought I'd let the video speak for itself, and I gave more than fair warning. Some students stopped watching, but others braved the experience. I would encourage anyone reading this to do the same (and then to read Schlosser's book :).
Some of the students were upset, some were angry, and a couple of them felt like they had been... well, tortured. Mission accomplished - welcome to advanced critical reading and writing class, kids!
Anyway, back to Yoon-Nyeong...
This past Saturday, after the field trip, we were all (students and teachers) treated to lunch at Outback Steakhouse (not my choice). However, it was very kind of the supervising teachers to ensure that something with veggieness was ordered for me. I took my place at the end of one of the tables and then Yoon-nyeong was asked to sit across from me so that we could share the vegetarian food.
Turns out she is now a vegetarian. I asked her why and she told me that since our class, she hasn't been able to eat meat. We actually spook about it through most of the meal, and she admitted that the video affected her more than she thought it would. She really couldn't stand the idea of eating animals at all any more. Yoon-nyeong also told me that she's having a hard time with her family as they are not at all accepting of this choice (and by extension, are probably pissed off at me).
She seems bound and determined though, and I applaud her efforts - not because it's in-line with my thoughts on the subject, and not because I feel that one girl is going to make a massive difference, but because it's a bold and important choice for a person to make - especially a young person in Korea where meat-eating is so socially ingrained in the culture and where group-think is a tough thing to get-away from.
I'm really proud of this girl. She wants to learn more about a vegetarian lifestyle, so I'll be giving her my copy of PETA's vegetarian starter kit that I brought with me from Canada. The information is delivered in bite-sized pieces, and it has some really great recipes to try.
We spoke a bit more about it before the food arrived, and then switched the topic to include the others, who couldn't hold back as soon as the plate of ribs arrived. Yoon-nyeong and I shared a knowing glance as we dug into our salad, veggie pasta, and gorgonzola flat bread - which we shared in bits with the others at our table.
I know that Yoon-nyeong will struggle at times with this choice - with friends and family and going forward, but all the power to her for making it despite all of that.