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How Israel became a vegan paradise

How Israel became a vegan paradise

by Great British Chefs 11 September 2017

It might be the land of milk and honey, but in the past five years veganism has taken Israel by storm. Ori Shavit tells us how it happened.

Being a vegan in the UK must have got a whole lot easier when hummus became a supermarket staple. In fact, the past few years have made following a vegan diet much easier, with high street shops now offering a whole range of dairy alternatives and restaurants creating vegan-specific menus. But the vegan revolution is a flash in the pan compared to what’s been happening in Israel – a country with more vegans per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Food writer Ori Shavit has experienced Israel’s vegan food scene first-hand. After turning vegan six years ago, she now teaches cooking classes, lectures about veganism around the world and helps chefs incorporate vegan dishes into their menus. ‘Until recently, Israel was a bit of a culinary desert for vegans,’ she says. ‘Today it is a vegan heaven – a lot has happened in the past six years. It’s now become part of the national food scene, and is certainly here to stay.’

But how did this happen? While veganism has increased in popularity across the world, why did Israel embrace it more than anywhere else? Ori says there are many factors. ‘All cultural events, religious celebrations and get-togethers are focused around food, and when you go to an Israeli home the heart of the house will always be the kitchen,’ she says. ‘It really brings people together, and because food is always at the top of our agenda, we’re happy to try new things. We’re also a young country and a nation of immigrants, so our national cuisine is changing all the time – we’re not tied down by tradition. People are happy to mix flavours from different countries together and are eager to try innovative new dishes. So the idea of changing to a vegan diet isn’t as shocking or scary as it might be elsewhere in the world.’

TASTEscape: Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

It certainly helps that a lot of Israeli food is vegan purely by coincidence. Along with the aforementioned hummus, there’s falafel and countless vegetable dishes, which makes it quite easy to switch to a full vegan diet. ‘A lot of our national dishes are street food which is naturally vegan,’ explains Ori. ‘And while there are plenty of meat and dairy dishes too, it’s really easy to find a vegan version. I’ve seen soy tofu shawarma and vegan pizza. Even Dominos Pizza in Israel offers a full vegan menu, which they don’t do anywhere else in the world.’

This naturally vegan base means restaurants don’t necessarily sell themselves as ‘vegan’ – but they’ll almost always have a good number of dairy-free dishes on the menu. ‘Almost all the restaurants here are vegan-friendly, so while their entire menu might not be vegan they ensure the dishes that are can be easily identified,’ says Ori. ‘As a vegan tourist, it’s very easy to spot where and what you can eat. There are many other cities in the world that have amazing vegan foods, but I don’t think they’re as accessible as they are here in Tel Aviv and Israel as a whole.’

It seems as though a perfect storm of naturally vegan Israeli dishes, a nation happy to try new things and an innate love for everything edible has turned Israel into a must-visit destination for the intrepid vegan. And while hummus might be readily available in the UK, it’s a very pale imitation to the incredible stuff being served on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

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