Veganism in the Holy Land

Vegans don’t eat or use animal products. They choose not to consume honey, milk, eggs, or fish, and they don’t wear clothing made of fur, leather, or wool. The country of Israel has taken this lifestyle to heart. In the past year, a growing number of Israeli citizens have switched from a carnivorous diet to one based on plants. Recent data shows that nearly one million Israelis eat a vegetarian diet, and many people have begun excluding the consumption of eggs and dairy. While one million people may seem a trivial number to Americans, it isn’t trivial to a country of only around eight million people. Many analysts predict that Israel could become the first cruelty-free nation in the world. Although Americans flinch at the idea of giving up animal products, the Israeli population seems to be embracing the idea with ease.

Only since the beginning of 2013 has Israel really gained attention for its growing compassion towards animals. Two Jewish vegan activists uploaded a speech with Hebrew subtitles by Gary Yourofsky. Yourofsky, a controversial animal activist, served time in a Canadian prison for breaking into a fur factory and liberating 1,500 minks from slaughter. The video went viral in Israel within a few months, with vegan companies strategically printing links to the YouTube video on tofu packages. Over a million Israeli citizens viewed the video, while others became exposed to a similar video depicting the overt cruelty that chickens and cows faced at a leading factory farm in the country. Disgust and outrage quickly erupted, with lawsuits piling up against the company and huge media coverage of demonstrations geared towards the dairy industry. By November of 2013, Israel’s dairy industry had dropped nearly 7%, an all-time low. It appears that many Israelis will not sit idly by while animal businesses gruesomely abuse their livestock.

Switching to a plant-based diet is actually an easy and financially advantageous move for Israelis. Most of the country’s Mediterranean cuisine already fits the criteria for veganism because recipes consist largely of fruits and vegetables. The majority of those living in Israel practice Judaism, and companies must mark products Kosher or Kosher “parve,” meaning they don’t contain any dairy or honey. It makes sense, then, that people who already considered themselves vegetarians before the Gary Yourofsky video have slowly started to become vegans. Celebrities in the country advocate for “Meatless Monday,” a growing international campaign, even reaching America, which urges the exclusion of meat on Mondays. For those eating out in Israel, just searching the Internet for vegan restaurants results in quite a few options. Israel has quickly adopted several methods for incorporating veganism into its culture, e.g., vegan Domino’s pizza.

Recently, growing concerns about the environmental impacts of a meat-based diet have arisen globally. The United Nations now believes that something must happen in order to change the environmental stability of food production throughout the world. On average, a non-vegetarian diet consumes 9 times more water than a herbivorous one, 2.5 times more primary energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticides. Although vegan diets still impact the environment, meat-based diets cause a significantly higher amount of pressure, especially in respect to freshwater. Over 85% of the fresh-water used in the United States goes to agriculture production to grow crops for animals to eat. The higher demand for the butchery of animals, the higher number of crops needed to feed them. It’s worth noting that cows produce one third of all the methane gas existing in the earth’s atmosphere, more than the amount that comes from cars. Israel’s leap to veganism could push the rest of the world to better, more sustainable eating habits.

But in America, a switch to veganism is almost seen as a taboo practice, with constant questioning and funny looks coming from meat eaters everywhere. Only 7.3 million of the 300 million people living in the United States follow a vegetarian diet, and only a million of them consider themselves vegans. Many Americans cringe at the idea of giving up the meat of another animal for plants. A counter organization to vegan groups actually exists in America. They’re called the “Anti-Vegetarian Society of Meat Eaters,” and they push for their liberty to consume meat.

So, why do Americans have such opposition to the idea, unlike the Israelis? A simple answer to this question is because early on, American children are instilled with the idea that they have entitlement over animals, which leads to the belief that they can and should do anything they want to their fellow creatures. Many citizens often refer to a carnivorous diet as only part of the “circle of life.” Consuming animal products in America has deep cultural roots, and many people don’t see a need for evolution. However, it seems that in Israel, citizens have stronger inclinations to change and grow. Ori Shivit, a former food critic turned vegan for Israel, accounts this willingness to the fact that “Israelis are generally more open-minded and curious and not afraid of change.” Maybe this earnest disposition in adapting new principals into their lifestyle comes from Israel’s fairly new establishment as a nation.

Most Americans choose to ignore where and how their food ends up in the grocery store aisle. The meat and dairy industry does not allow animals the happy life that they boast about in commercials. A prime example of this disregard comes from the treatment of piglets in factories. A former worker recently revealed how underweight piglets were euthanized by “Taking them by the hind legs and smashing their skulls against the concrete floor — a technique known as ‘thumping.’ Their bloodied bodies are then tossed into a giant bin, where video shows them twitching and paddling until they died, sometimes long after this process.” Oddly enough, Americans would never treat a dog in this matter. But, they allow thousands of pigs to die this way almost every day for their bacon fix even though studies indicate that pigs show intelligence far exceeding every other domesticated animals, including dogs. Pigs get little respect because of their label as food. As a vegan, I have tried explaining this horrifying truth, with the common response of “I don’t want to know about it.” Those who consider themselves citizens of the greatest country in the world have a tendency to sidestep the truth in order to avoid dealing with the disturbing details.

Israel’s switch to a vegan diet exemplifies the possibilities that can be actualized when one country has an openness to change. This switch has occurred with blinding speed over the last year. People throughout Israel see that something must happen to change the unpleasant fate these animals face, and some don’t want to participate in that treatment at all. Americans need to examine their own food choices and understand that meat production has a dire affect on other animals. If people who advocate for environmental protection don’t realize the impacts animal production has on the earth, then all of their other efforts have no meaning. The way societies have changed in the past comes from those willing to make it happen. Change only occurs if someone allows it to, and even small steps to help the other inhabitants of this planet are steps in the right direction.