The following article will be printed in the January, 2012 issue of Daegu Compass:
Ever wonder what the green scene in Daegu is like? Maybe you’ve seen the awkwardly worded “Me First” signs in the buses encouraging us to unplug electronics, turn down the heat, and finish all our food. Or maybe you’ve noticed people standing around 2.28 Park holding signs and banners protesting the Four Rivers project. Perhaps you were downtown on at midnight on Earth Day last year and saw a bunch of people pitching tents in preparation for a night to be spent hanging out, singing, snacking, and enforcing car-free day? While I can’t say I know who’s behind the first two, I was honored to be a part of the third, which was organized in part by the Daegu Green Consumers Network (녹색소비자연대). Over the past year I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend time with several employees of the DGCN, though only recently did I sit down with them to get the official word on what the group is and what they’re up to.
The Green Consumers Network started in Seoul in 1996 as a consumers’ rights protection organization. Consumers who had problems with faulty products could contact the GCN, which would then advise them on what they could do, or even advocate for them in court. Over the last fifteen years, it has expanded to include branches in eighteen cities, each of which runs its own programs and projects depending on local interests and needs. Despite their differences, though, all are dedicated to “green consumption” in some form or another.
The Daegu branch of the GCN has three divisions: the main office in Suseong-gu, the Palgong office in Dong-gu, and the little hole in the wall near the rear gate of KNU, endearingly named “The Unawkward Warehouse” (“어색하지 않은 창고” in Korean, or “Chang-go” for short.) I’m most familiar with this last one, which I’ve been visiting regularly and sharing with friends ever since I found out about it last December. Spearheaded by Jeong Mi-na, Chang-go exists to give college students and others a place to meet, organize, plan, study, or do just about anything they can think up. Student groups working for social justice can book the space for a nominal fee and use the kitchen to prepare group meals for themselves and guests; study groups or book clubs can reserve space weekly; and individuals can stop by for a cup of fair-trade coffee or organic tea sold at-cost. There are bookshelves full of books on social, political, environmental, and culinary topics, available to anyone who wants to borrow them. In addition, Chang-go also operates two regular programs: Community Lunch, where students cook lunch together using mostly organic ingredients, and the weekly Veg Night for the Earth, where members gather together to enjoy brown rice, organic vegetarian fare, and one another’s company. (Disclosure: I chef for this event once a month.)
The international chefs mean business: quinoa salad, sautteed eggplants and mushrooms, hummus, and kidney bean burgers.
The staff of the Palgong branch is principally involved in creating Daegu’s own version of Jeju’s Olle-gil, a hiking trail that runs around the entire perimeter of the island. The Daegu Olle-gil will eventually link together a number of already-existing hiking paths around Mt. Palgong and offer starting points easily accessible by public transportation. I asked Jin Seon-a to explain the connection with green consumption; she told that consumption refers not only to what we buy, but how and where we spend our time. In winter and summer alike, we depend on fossil-fuel powered climate control to keep us comfy. Further, more of us are overweight and out of shape than ever before. Encouraging people to get out and hike, and making it easier for them to do so, can kill both of these birds with one stone. Winter hikers generate their own heat, summer hikers can cool off in the fresh air, and no matter what time of year, being out and active leads to better health. Plus, the more time one spends in nature, the more likely one is to want to protect it. As it is, Daegu’s continuing sprawl is encroaching on Mt. Palgong; the DGCN sees increased attachment to the natural, cultural, and historical treasures of the mountain as the most effective remedy.
Different entry points for the Daegu Olle-gil, all accessible by public transportation.
The main office, hidden in an unassuming old-style Korean house just East of the Sincheon river, orchestrates a number of programs, the biggest of which is the recurring Brown Rice Raw Vegan Diet seminar. Participants start the seminar with a health-check up that includes detailed measurements of weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and other nutritional indicators. Over the course of a month and a half, they attend six weekly meetings at which they’re treated to healthy dinners and listen to lectures by Dr. Hwang Seong-su on social, nutritional, ethical, and practical aspects of raw veganism. Participants also keep food diaries and receive another check-up at the end of the program. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the final meeting, where I heard their stories: several lost as much as four kilograms and everyone reported improvements of some kind, whether measurable (blood pressure), tangible (better skin), or slightly less concrete (overall more energy).
Other DGCN projects include courses for those interested in learning about organic farming before retiring to the countryside; field trips for children, adults, and families to forests and apple orchards; and farm visits, complete with lessons on making all-natural (aspartame-free) rice wine. The DGCN has also helped certain local restaurants develop vegetarian menus and convinced them to offer whole-grain brown rice. Starting in 2012, they’re planning on running a small co-op, where five members will live together, eat vegetarian, make their own compost, and produce no non-recyclable trash. Spring will see the inception of an indigenous bean and grain rehabilitation program, where participants receive seeds from local crops, raise them (at home or outdoors) for a year, return the same number of seeds to the center, and share the rest with friends. Urban gardening courses are also on the horizon.
So, next time you see a pile of trash on the street, smell that sewer stench, or get assaulted by someone trying to sell you makeup and/or smart phones, don’t despair! There are good people doing good work, and, better yet, there are chances for you to get involved.
For more information about the Daegu Green Consumers Network, check out the official website, http://www.dgcn.org. Information on the Palgong Olle-gil is available at http://cafe.naver.com/culture803. For English news about the DGCN, look up Daegu Green Living on Facebook, or visit the blog at http://noksaeksari.blogspot.com. Or, come out to an Eco-film Night (two this month! Jan 15th and 29th!) Who knows who you’ll meet?