Korean vegetarian values: ethics, sustainability and quality of life

Gahyun Kim, Jieun Oh, Mi Sook Cho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: Vegetarian diets are increasingly common worldwide. Vegetarianism is no longer just related to food, but rather it evokes a deeper meaning, such as environmental sustainability and animal welfare. In Western cultures, many studies have examined how vegetarians' motivations relate to animal welfare, health and environmentalism. However, there is little research in this area in Asia, especially in South Korea, despite a growing number of vegetarians. This study identifies the hierarchical value maps (HVMs) of vegetarians to clarify why people choose to become vegetarians and investigates the negative aspects of these dietary types. Design/methodology/approach: The authors conducted in-depth, one-to-one laddering interviews with 33 vegetarians in South Korea based on the means-end chain theory. The laddering technique is a qualitative approach to determining connections between attributes, consequences and values. Findings: Vegetarians tend to value an ethical lifestyle, sustainable future, ecological circulation, responsibility for nature, respect for life, respect for the weak and quality of life. HVM differs slightly among groups by the type of vegetarianism (vegan vs non-vegan vegetarians) and sex (females vs males). The most dominant cognitive structures toward vegetarian diets were “meat-free,” “no factory farming,” and “plant-based” (attributes); “health,” “environment-friendly” and “animal-friendly” (consequences); and “quality of life,” “ethical life,” and “sustainable future” (values). Originality/value: This study offers insights into the motivations of Korean vegetarians, and they are not culturally different from those of Westerners as they relate to animals, the environment and health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2294-2314
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Food Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - 16 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Conflicts of interest : The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited.


  • Food choice
  • Means-end chain theory
  • Plant-based food
  • Sustainability
  • Vegetarian


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