You can’t be vegan in Korea. Veganism is unheard of here. It’s impossible.

Someone on the internet

Myth vs. truth—Korean vegans exist, and foreign vegans are in no danger of starving to death. And compared with past years, today we’re absolutely spoiled. Online shopping sites such as Coupang and iHerb supply just about anything you can’t buy locally.  

On the other hand, online stores sometimes stop carrying great products for no apparent reason. Plus, am I the only one who’s noticed that previously vegan-friendly companies will suddenly erase the word “vegan” from their marketing materials? When you write in for an explanation, whoever answers your email decides to play dumb. 

Vegan? What’s that? You don’t eat laundry soap, do you?

Sample quote, illustrating the general trend in online customer service

So Vegan Space, an all-vegan grocery store established in August 2018 in the mostly foreign neighborhood of Haebangchon within Seoul’s Yongsan district, was a welcome addition to the local landscape.

All the basics, and more

Pasta, lentils, oat or hazelnut milk, peanut butter, tortillas, frozen vegetables … you can find it all at Vegan Space. Treats like cookies, hummus, vegan yogurt and vegan Korean dumplings are there too, and that’s not a full list. You can get what you need without passing the meat counter or digging through piles of nonvegan products.

In October 2019, Vegan Space moved down the street to a more spacious store. Now there’s a counter where you can order coffee, tea, smoothies and baked goods (or bananas). There are tables where you can enjoy a coffee while reading a vegan cookbook or magazine in a relaxing environment. Online delivery is available too.

Behind the counter is Jaeseok Lim, founder and owner of Vegan Space. He doesn’t usually do interviews in English, but he agreed to an email interview for this blog. To prevent any misunderstanding, I’ve kept editing to a bare minimum. 

On what led up to Vegan Space

When I was into yoga before, there was a guide line for yogis which is “do not eat anything slaughtered.” And I was inspired by this sentence and I tried to have vegan meals since that time. I went to super market to cook vegan recipes but it was hard to buy vegan food or ingredients at one place. I searched on google if there was vegan grocery or something like that but I couldn’t find it in Seoul and somewhere else too. This is the main reason why I started Vegan Space.

Jaeseok Lim, Vegan Space

On why he picked Haebangchon 

I did many market search before I open and I found that veganism already started in western countries a long time ago. HBC is … known as a spot full of foreign cultures and also many foreign (westerners) people (live here). I thought here is the right spot for Vegan Space because I thought there must be some vegans or ppl who are interested in veganism as well. And actually here were some places already offer vegan options too.

Jaeseok Lim, Vegan Space

On his interest in yoga 

My girlfriend suggested me to do yoga together and I went to a studio 3 times a week. And I started to feel changes of my body in positive way and I’ve been into yoga since then. I’ve got a bit busier these days after moving so I only go yoga twice a week. I still practice every week because I love it and feel appreciate of it too.

Jaeseok Lim, Vegan Space

On his ongoing transition to veganism

It’s very hard. I’m still work on it. but I try vegan meal once a day or be being vegan one or two days a week. I think I should say to change my eating habit is very difficult. But I think it’s getting better than before because vegan groceries are getting more and more. I try to be balancing at btw non-vegan and vegan for now.

Jaeseok Lim, Vegan Space

On Koreans and veganism 

I would say 40% of the customers are Korean. I’m not sure if they are more aware of the importance of veganism but I would say veganism is being spread more and more than before as we can see news or information about vegan culture pretty much through the internet or TV these days.

Jaeseok Lim, Vegan Space

On how Vegan Space has grown and changed

It’s getting stable fortunately. I think it takes time to grow more because Korean vegan market is still very small and need time for people to know about it. After moving, people comes in more and look around and buy stuff more than before. I think it’s because the shop is wider when we see from outside and it brings more people and also we are offering the tables to have drinks too. 🙂

Jaeseok Lim, Vegan Space

When asked to share any funny/weird/inspiring stories

It was about a month after the store opened 2018. Three Koreans dressed in yellow-colored modern Hanbok came into the store and said they had heard that a vegan shop had been established and visited. After looking around, they found out I was selling vegan beer and wine and they said that it’s not vegan and yelled at how angry it was and they just left the shop without saying. It was the most ridiculous experience so far.

Jaeseok Lim, Vegan Space

On the future of Vegan Space

I have no specific plan for the next 10 years but I’d like to import good vegan food from overseas and offer people much more wider options in 2-3 years. And I like to make it reliable for vegan people for long time here.

Jaeseok Lim, Vegan Space

When I followed up on the story about the people in yellow hanbok, the owner confirmed that all the beer and wine at Vegan Space has been checked carefully and hasn’t been through any nonvegan filtering processes, unlike some beers and wines. But the visitors left in such a hurry that he never got a chance to tell them. 

Vegan food is all around us, but a dedicated space makes a big difference. Since I moved back to Seoul in 2018, Vegan Space has made an enormous difference in my quality of life and has provided a wonderful service to the community. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks so. To show your support for this oasis in the city and its dedicated owner, please leave a comment in the comment section. 

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