Society & Culture: Veganism
Israel is home to the largest percentage of vegans per capita in the world. Approximately 5 percent of Israelis (approximately 300,000) are vegans according to a 2015 survey by Globes and Israel's Channel 2 News, compared to 2 percent of U.S. and U.K. citizens and only 1 percent of Germans. Hence, it’s not surprising that more than 400 certified vegan restaurants can be found in Tel Aviv alone.
The dramatic shift during the 2010’s that took veganism from the margin to the mainstream, was mostly driven by a desire for healthier, more natural food options. Instead of products like soy and almond milk being bought almost exclusively by niche markets of lactose-free and vegan individuals, these products have found a new global audience with people who are searching for a healthier and more environmentally friendly choices. Typical Israeli fare like falafel, hummus, tahini, and majadara were already 100 percent vegan, so the transition for Israelis was easy.
Israeli food writer, critic, and chef, Ori Shavit, claims that the Israeli vegan revolution began to pick up steam in 2012, when American animal-rights activist Gary Yourofsky's YouTube lectures on veganism were given Hebrew subtitles. These online videos have been viewed by Israelis 1.5 million times and counting.
On October 13, 2014, Israel hosted the world's largest vegan festival, with 15,000 participants. The festival featured 100 food stalls, celebrity speakers, cooking demonstrations, and music.
Although veganism is “trendy” around the globe in 2016, Israel takes vegan culture to a whole new level. Tel Aviv was ranked as the number one travel destination for vegan travelers in 2015 by U.S.-based food site The Daily Meal, beating out New York City, Berlin, and Chennai, India to claim the top spot. Israel is the only place in the world where you can find vegan Domino's pizza, topped with non-dairy cheese. Domino's locations in Israel sold more than 500,000 vegan pizzas in 2015 according to Ido Fridman, the company's VP of Marketing in Israel. Popular Israeli restaurants Aroma and Cafe Greg also feature entire menus of vegan offerings.
In 2014 the IDF announced 14 new programs, including offering vegan meals, leather-free boots, and wool-free berets to their vegan troops.
Tal Gilboa, a prominent Israeli animal-rights activist, won the 2014 season of the popular Israeli show Big Brother and used his celebrity to spread the word about veganism. Globes surveyed viewers of the show and found that 60 percent of them said they planned on changing their eating habits based on Gilboa's time on the show.
Vegan meals and restaurants also have the added advantage of being kosher, which opens up a potentially larger market of observant Jews. Israelis may also be predisposed to a vegan diet, as 75% of all Jewish individuals are lactose intolerant. Veganism's explosion in Israel can be partially attributed to Jewish dietary laws, and how they relate to animal rights, large-scale factory farming, and slaughterhouses. Religion plays a prominent role in Israeli life, and the way animals are killed in factories does not align with many Israeli's, especially Orthodox, perception of how a proper Kosher butchering should take place. Israelis see many practices in modern slaughterhouses and factory farms as animal cruelty, which is structly prohibited in the Torah.
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Talshir, Rachel. “In Israel, Veganism for the Masses,” Haaretz (October 2, 2015);
Cohen, Tova. “In the land of milk and honey, Israelis turn vegan,” Reuters, (July 21, 2015);
Rousseau, Daphne. “Israel, the promised land for vegans,” Times of Israel, (October 22, 2014);
Leichman, Abigail. “Israel to host world’s largest vegan festival,” Israel21c, (October 7, 2014);
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