Many Israelis grew up eating kosher meat with a notion that the rabbinic stamp of approval meant the process was at least marginally humane. However, since a spate of gruesome media coverage exposed the leading meat, chicken and dairy companies of abusing animals and employees alike, Israel is looking a little closer at its food industries. A six-part series by the investigative TV program KolBotek made consumers queasy when their undercover camera showed the truth about the slaughterhouses and dairy farms of the country’s largest distributor, Tnuva, which now faces criminal charges as a result of the feature. The change is happening at lightning speed: Israel has just hosted the world’s largest vegan festival, and even the Prime Minister is discussing animal rights in Cabinet meetings.
With star power from public figures like model Rotem Sela, NGO’s and social organizations are raising awareness of Israel’s food industry. Let Animals Live and Anonymous are two of the main organizations working tirelessly for animal rights and encouraging veganism; their recent petition to the high court of Israel stated that abuse inflicted on animals in livestock processing plants ‘was not exceptional, but was methodical, routine and continuous.’ Now the question where Israelis and tourists can find delicious vegan and vegetarian food!
While of course not everyone is going to give up their shwarma and halloumi, already eight percent of the population identifies as vegetarian and almost five percent as vegan – a higher percentage than any other country in the world. After a prominent vegan activist, Tal Gilboa, won the ‘Big Brother’ competition, 60 percent of viewers surveyed by Israel’s financial magazine Globes responded that they have or plan to change their eating habits as a result of the information and passion she shared on air.
To start the journey into a plant-based diet in the holy land, VegansOnTop is a wonderful resource for restaurant recommendations, recipes, news and events run by Ori Shavit, a leader in both activism and gastronomy. She writes that her own conversion and a major influence in the whole movement began three years ago when the renowned speaker Gary Yourofsky’s lectures on veganism and animal-rights were translated to Hebrew. As the ethical trend grows, so does the cultural response and the result is a boom in vegan and vegetarian friendly menu items as well as entirely dedicated restaurants.
Several long-standing institutions in Tel Aviv include vegan Buddha Burgers and 24 Rupees, the vegetarian Indian kitchen with a cult following. These gems have been around for a while but true progress is obvious when establishments such as the exceedingly popular Georgian bar and restaurant Nanutchka, goes all vegan. Now the café chains are taking meat off the table and the Israeli division of Domino’s Pizza is the first of the international franchise to sell a vegan pizza.
A growing number of popular chains including the ubiquitous Aroma and Café Greg now feature menu options for hungry vegans and vegetarians, while trendy neighborhoods like Florentin in South Tel Aviv are busting with animal-free gems like The Green Shack, and HaChatul HaYarok (The Green Cat) Israel’s first fully vegan pizza restaurant featuring their unique cashew ‘mozzarella.’
When picking where to eat in the Holy Land, don’t forget that so many favorite Israeli foods like hummus, falafel, and mujadderah lentil stew are already vegan. The English website Secret Tel Aviv has done a survey of the favorite Tel Aviv vegetarian and vegan eateries according to the international crowd, and HappyCow has compiled a list covering the whole country so you can eat ethically anywhere you travel.
Those who want to get more hands on in eliminating animal products from their plate can take a cooking class with vegan chef Kristof Steiner at his romantic kitchen on Nachalat Binyamin Street, Tel Aviv. Best of all, if time is not an issue, the number one way to appreciate eating vegetables is to stay a while and grow your own while volunteering at an organic farm in Israel.
For a list of Tel Aviv’s top ten vegan restaurants, see our article here. To schedule a cooking lesson with, Kristof Steiner, email him at email@example.com.