If you’ve been following vegan world news over the last couple of years, you’ve probably already heard of at least a few Israeli vegan projects, and perhaps of the predictions that Israel may become the world’s first vegan nation.
But today these predictions have started coming to life as a new Israeli survey has revealed that approx. 1 million out of Israel’s population of 8 million, no longer eats meat, and another whopping 13% are now considering going either vegetarian or vegan.
In the survey, which was published last week in two prominent Israeli magazines, 5% of the people surveyed answered that they are now vegan, another 8% define themselves as vegetarian, and no less than 40% answered that they have a friend or relative that transitioned into veganism or vegetarianism over the past year.
A growing vegan movement with a financial power that shows
These statistics are consistent with previous reports, indicating Israel’s growing vegan movement. Last month one of Israel’s leading financial magazines revealed that the Israeli dairy industry hit another low in November of 2013 with a drop in sales of 4%- 7% in various categories of dairy products (to which the Israeli government responded by further subsidizing dairy products). But the financial effects have been seen not only within the Israeli dairy industry. A recent article in the Israeli financial magazine The Marker, showed that Israeli consumers are massively moving towards healthier foods, which include an inclination to veganism, and that these consumers are changing the market as they go.
The Marker’s article, which was published this past September, featured some of the biggest names in Israel’s food market and restaurant chains, testifying in regard to the increase in demand for vegan foods. The marketing manager of one of Israel’s biggest restaurant chains, Cafe Greg, was quoted as saying that in the last year and a half they have seen a rise of 30%-40% in demand for vegan dishes in their restaurants, which was the reason they decided to add an entirely new vegan menu in addition to the regular menu throughout their chain. Today, the same marketing director has told The Vegan Woman that since this addition, the response has been so high that they have decided to further expand the menu on offer, to include no less than 24 vegan dishes (the first menu included 11), which will hit their branches over the coming months.
Veganism’s journey into the Israeli mainstream
Café Greg is not alone in meeting the increasing demand for vegan dining options. Domino’s Pizza created waves around the world this past December as they added a vegan pizza option to their Israeli menu. According to Omri Paz, the founder of the Israeli Vegan-Friendly foundation which accompanied the chain’s move, Domino’s anticipated the plant-based pizza to increase sales by only 5%, but found themselves fighting to meet the high demand and providing the amount of vegan cheese needed to produce the high volumes that were sought.
Even the biggest Israeli dairy supplier, Tnuva, have realized the change in direction, and after launching a successful line of vegan milks have also recently introduced a series of vegan yogurts, thus bringing more plant based options into the mainstream of almost every supermarket.
How did this shift happen?
If you are wondering how Israel has become a world leader of veganism you are not alone. While there is much speculation about the elements that have come into play in Israel over the past couple of years, three factors stand out as likely causes:
The first is a YouTube lecture by American animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky, which thanks to the translation and promotion by two activists within the Israeli vegan community, has gone viral, generating over 1 million views (which amount to over 10% of Israel’s population), and has managed to “veganize” a multitude of people. The lecture was so successful that two nationwide lecture tours followed, generating increased media exposure and creating a wave of new and passionate activists.
The second factor was a series of large scale exposés (warning! The video contains hard to view images from minute 01:23), which were broadcast on national TV, revealing horrific crimes within the largest and most popular Israeli meat and egg companies and exposing footage that the companies have worked hard to keep away from the public eye. As segments of the Israeli public were exposed to the gruesome price of their meat, law suits were filed, media chaos developed and many Israelis found themselves moving towards a plant based diet.
The third factor must be credited to the Israeli vegan community and the entrepreneurial spirit behind it. As passionate new and veteran vegans started working together on vegan related projects, veganism has come to the forefront, receiving fantastic media exposure, and becoming increasingly accessible. Among the prominent projects: Vegan-Friendly, mentioned earlier, working with restaurants towards the inclusion of vegan menus nationwide, vegan apps, workshops, large scale social events and of course large scale protests and demonstrations, like the one held in Tel Aviv this past August, engaging over 3,000 demonstrators in the center of Tel Aviv.
As 2013 drew to an end a few prominent magazines marked veganism not only as one of the biggest trends that Israelis were involved in throughout the year, but also as one of the biggest movements to keep an eye on in 2014. It will be interesting to keep an eye on veganism’s growth in Israel in the coming year, and see how far the numbers will increase and whether Israel will stay on course to become the first meat-free nation.