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Consuming less, a way to live a healthy urban life

Slower lifestyle can mean healthier, happier life and help protect nature

People like it when things are convenient and efficient in the city. We are busy, not willing to wait too long and always have too much going on in our lives.

But environmental specialist Park Gyeong-hwa asks, “Does our lifestyle really make us happy?”

As more of us are relying on machines and fast food, we are also exposing ourselves to the harmful electromagnetic radiation, endocrine disruptors and acid rain, she said.

Park, who has spent many years in environmental activism, says eco-friendly lifestyle ― which she calls as “simple” and “slow” ― can improve our physical and mental well-being while being considerate of others and our mother nature.

Having worked at numerous environmental NGOs, including Green Korea, Park now lives near the famous Seongmi Mountain town in Seoul, where a group of people live together as an eco-friendly community.

For the last 10 years, people of Seongmi Mountain have been celebrating their own sets of values in Seoul. They have an alternative school, a movie theater and even a used-clothes store that teach and promote environmentalism.

“I think most of the environmental issues are related to our consumption,” Park told The Korea Herald. “Just by being a smart consumer and not consuming more than needed can make a big difference.”

Yet Park made one thing clear. “I personally think the ultimate purpose of this (eco-friendly) lifestyle is to be happy,” she said. “It is to enjoy our lives while keeping things simple and appreciate what we already have.”

Here are some ways to be eco-friendly while living in the city.
Kids tend to vegetables at an eco-friendly farm in Gyeonggi Province. (Park Gyeong-hwa)
Kids tend to vegetables at an eco-friendly farm in Gyeonggi Province. (Park Gyeong-hwa)

Eat local

While there are a lot of organic products out there, Park says it is more eco-friendly to choose local products rather than the ones from foreign countries.

“We cannot expect to have healthy food if our soil is not in good health,” Park said. “Consuming local products is one of the ways to keep our soil in the best possible condition.”

iCOOP Korea, a consumer cooperative that focuses on fair trade and environmentally friendly products, holds many events that allow consumers to meet producers in person and see how their food products are being made and distributed.

One of the events would invite children to local wheat fields in the countryside and let them try baking tteok ― a Korean desert that is usually made of rice ― with wheat.

iCOOP said such event is to inform consumers, especially children, about what they eat and how they are made.

“The wheat festival is especially meaningful because it lets people know that healthy food comes from fair trade and well-preserved soil,” an official said. “The kids learn to appreciate the efforts of the farmers as well as the importance of preserving our environment.”

iCOOP has a fixed rate for most of their products, which are jointly decided by both the producers and consumers.

“When we do our grocery shopping, most of us only think about what’s cheap, what’s fresh, and what looks good,” Park said. “But we have to think about how they come to us, and what we are actually putting into our mouths. These things matter because in the end, they affect our soil and our health. People in the city need to be smart consumers for our environment to be well-preserved.” 
Consuming local food ingredients helps preserve soil. (Park Gyeong-hwa)
Consuming local food ingredients helps preserve soil. (Park Gyeong-hwa)

Make your own food seasonings

Instead of over-consuming monosodium glutamate, or MSG, make your own seasoning to keep your meals fresh and natural. Dried seaweed and anchovies make great seasonings for Korean stews once made into powder. For seafood dishes, powder made of fried prawns suits well. To get rid of an unpleasant odor of a fish, grind pear, onion, white radish, ginger, and garlic together and pour the juice on it.

Endocrine disruptors are man-made chemicals that may interfere with the production or activity of human hormones in harmful ways. The chemicals are found in many plastics, including food packaging and household products. Some naturally made products can reduce your exposure to it at home. Mix olive oil and vinegar to clean your furniture. Paper your room with Hanji ― Korea’s traditional paper ― with naturally-made glue, if you’ve just moved in and want to avoid the chemical and strong odor of a newly papered house. Instead of using an artificially-scented air freshener, wrap a few pieces of charcoal in a piece of paper and place them in your living room. Charcoals absorb unpleasant scents and clean the air. 
A family learns about agricultural life at a farm where they buy their food. (iCOOP Korea)
A family learns about agricultural life at a farm where they buy their food. (iCOOP Korea)

Turn your machines off when not in use

The effects of electromagnetic radiation can be as minor as headaches and as severe as life-threatening cancer. Just like endocrine disruptors, it is impossible to cut out EMR from our daily lives. However, we can minimize our exposure by trying the following. Unplug all of your appliances when you are not using them, and keep them away from your bed when you are asleep. Get a battery operated alarm clock, instead of having your cell phone on all night right next to your head. Avoid using the microwave, and stay away from it when it is on. For pregnant women and children, it is not a good idea to use electric blankets. If you cannot avoid using them, heat them up in advance and unplug the power cord before you spread it over your bed. Electric humidifier is, to the surprise of many, one of the strongest EMR transmitting devices. Having a wet towel near your bed can be an alternative if your room is too dry. And by avoiding EMR, you are also saving energy.
Having a plant in a room can reduce electromagnetic radiation. (Park Gyeong-hwa)
Having a plant in a room can reduce electromagnetic radiation. (Park Gyeong-hwa)

Be creative and share

Start your own apartment garden and plant flowers or tomatoes. Alter your used clothes and donate to second-hand stores. Make eco-friendly products, such as pillows filled with herbs and tea leaves, or washable cloths menstrual pads. Get involved and meet other people who are also conscious about the environment. Here are some of the environmentally friendly organizations that welcome new members and volunteers.

Green Korea

Green Future

iCOOP Korea

Beautiful Store

Sungmisan Theater

Be happy

Park washes all of her clothes on her own, as she refuses to own a washing machine. “It’s totally a personal choice,” she said. “I don’t own a washing machine because I genuinely find joy in washing clothes on my own.”

But Park also said not everyone has to live like her.

“There are many different ways to live our lives,” she said. “I chose enjoy my life without having more than what I need. Not everyone can be rich and live in comfort. Our resources are limited. But everyone can be happy in their own ways.”

By Claire Lee  (
Korea Herald Youtube