Slow food movement catches on quickly (South Korea)

“It may seem uncomfortable at times, but there is nothing that makes me happier than when I harvest the food that I have cultivated.” – Choi Geum-ok
Kim Young-jun, 46, and his wife Hwang Won-hee, 47, lead a busy life with work, household chores and raising their 6-year-old twins – son and daughter Kang and Kun-hee. But the time they all spend in their vegetable garden is what they say they value most.

Like a growing number of Koreans, the family is part of the slow movement, an international trend toward simplifying life that began with slow food in the mid-1980s.

The family was in their garden in Dunchon-dong, Gangdong District, on a recent afternoon earlier this month, harvesting cabbages and checking the progress of the six other vegetables they are growing, including eggplant, spinach, lettuce and tomatoes.

“We come out here every day because the kids enjoy seeing how much their vegetables have grown,” Hwang said. “Coming out to the vegetable garden each day with the family is one of the happiest moments of my day.”

Their garden is part of an urban farm project operated by the Gangdong District Office since last year. The eastern Seoul district manages three farms, one in Gangil-dong that measures 1,400 square meters (15,070 square feet), one in Myeongil-dong (480 square meters) and the one in Dunchon-dong (2,700 square meters).

The office rents the land in units of 16-square-meter lots, charging 50,000 won ($46) per unit per year. One unit of land is enough to grow vegetables for a four-member family, the office said. The office provides vegetable seeds and fertilizer for free, along with agricultural tools and machinery.

Operating a small vegetable garden and eating the food grown there is a one good way of living a slow life, said Kim Jong-duk, a professor in Kyungnam University’s Department of Sociology and author of the book “Slow Food, Slow Life.”

“Harvesting fresh vegetables that are safe to eat teaches children the importance of life and also gives them opportunities to realize that life can come out of the soil,” said Kim. “Rather than going out to eat fast food, it is important to cook meals at home.”

The slow movement began in Italy with the concept of slow food and a protest organized by Carlo Petrini against the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in the vicinity of the Piazza di Spagna in Rome in 1986.

Unlike its name, the slow movement quickly drew the attention of the public and started to spread rapidly throughout the world in 1989.

The slow food movement is now led by approximately 100,000 members in 132 nations and has become the prototype for other slow living movements involving travel, education, management and leadership.

A longtime proponent of the slow movement in Asia is Japanese theorist Tsuji Shinichi, a professor at Meiji Gakuin University. His books, “Slow is Beautiful” and “Slow Life,” emphasize the importance of the environment and community in slow living.

“Rather than economic success and improvement, I have discovered that it is much more important for us to live a harmonious life with nature and the community,” said Shinichi in a recent interview with the JoongAng Sunday.

“To foster better relations with family, friends, the community and nature, we need to invest time into integrating the slow life within our busy schedules.”

Because of the overwhelming number of concepts within slow living, such as slow food, slow fashion, slow parenting and slow travel, it may be hard for an individual to find a way to begin a slow life.

Shinichi recommends beginning by walking slowly. This does not mean that you must refrain from using cars or public transportation, but rather that a person can enjoy the slow life by taking frequent strolls to wherever your feet take you.

When traveling from one area to another, people always try to get to their destinations as quickly as possible, but taking slow walks will bring peace and freedom to your busy life, Shinichi said.

Slow living became popular in Korea when Changpyeong, South Jeolla, in 2007 became the first Asian city to be selected as a slow city by Cittaslow, an Italian movement inspired by slow food founded in 1999 that aims to promote a city’s culture and specialties.

Choi Geum-ok, 52, who lives in Changpyeong, is a practitioner of the slow life. She believes that growing your own food is one of the most important parts of the slow movement.

“It may seem uncomfortable at times, but there is nothing that makes me happier than when I harvest the food I have cultivated,” said Choi, who cooks with produce only from her garden. She also makes her own clothes and dyes the fabric with natural materials.

Experts have said that being part of the slow movement doesn’t mean we have to move slowly. Rather, it means we have control over the rhythm in our lives.

“We have lost our sense of time. We believe that we can add meaning to life by making things go faster,” Petrini was once quoted as saying. “We have an idea that life is short … and that we must go fast to fit everything in. But life is long. The problem is that we don’t know how to spend our time wisely.”

By Kim Whan-yung, Lee Taek-hwan [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

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