Israel shows the world its abundant vegan food diversity, innovation and delicacies
Israel celebrates Vegan Fest, considered the largest vegan food festival in the world. The three-day event will continue until Thursday at Sarona Park in the heart of Tel Aviv. The festival hosts over 100 different food stalls and is expected to receive over 100,000 visitors this year.
The first Vegan Fest in Tel Aviv was celebrated in 2013, followed by another in 2019; this week’s festival is the third.
Israel, and Tel Aviv in particular, is considered the vegan capital of the world.
Kenneth Gotlib, international press officer for the Tel Aviv-Yafo mayor’s office, told The Media Line that Vegan Fest is one of the ways the city’s municipality promotes plant-based foods.
He said Vegan Fest “is one of the best examples of how the municipality supports and promotes a vegan-friendly lifestyle.”
Additionally, “the city is educating its citizens about clean and healthy living through a series of signs, activities and campaigns that benefit both residents and the environment,” he said.
Omri Paz, is the founder of Vegan Friendly, an Israeli organization that works to promote veganism and animal rights, which co-hosted the festival with the Tel Aviv Municipality.
Israel is considered the most vegan country in the world, Paz told The Media Line. “We have about 5% vegans in Israel, 5% vegetarians, and when we started ten years ago there were only 1% vegans, so we’re really excited about the huge change that’s coming. has been produced in the last 10 years,” he said.
Paz started Vegan Friendly on his own 10 years ago when he was a law student in Jerusalem working full-time as a security guard.
He said Vegan Friendly now has 40 workers in Israel and 8 workers in the UK where it expanded two years ago; this month, the organization will also begin operations in the United States.
Vegan Friendly works to make veganism accessible and raises awareness about industrial animal production, known as factory farming. Paz said the organization also provides labels for vegan products and restaurants so they can be easily identified by consumers.
Today, the organization has 10,000 labeled vegan products in Israel and 2,000 in the UK. About 3,000 different businesses or branches are certified Vegan Friendly in both countries, which Paz described as “really exciting.”
“That includes the biggest brands in the world like Domino’s Pizza and Papa John’s, Unilever, Nestlé – we work with all the biggest companies and we’re really happy to be able to make an impact,” he said.
Behind every booth at the festival, The Media Line found people with diverse backgrounds, stories and products.
El Rachmani is one of them. He is the founder and owner of the popular 416 restaurant in Tel Aviv, famous for its vegan steaks.
He told The Media Line he was not a classically trained chef, but started cooking when he left his parents’ house and became a vegan at the age of 18 years old. “I started to learn how to mix all of these flavors and textures and colors,” he said.
Rachmani, an Israeli who grew up in America, recalled how he was surrounded by food and foodies when he was younger, which inspired him to open the successful restaurant he owns today.
416’s famous vegan steaks are made with seitan, and it took five years to change and adjust recipes to create the acclaimed vegan meat the restaurant serves.
Rachmani thinks vegan food is not just for vegans. “People who aren’t Japanese eat sushi all the time, you don’t have to be vegan to enjoy a good vegan meal,” he said.
Or Biba, is the founder of Ecosupp, the first Israeli company to introduce liquid vegan supplements to the market, which was founded 12 years ago.
Besides the fact that everything is vegan, Biba told The Media Line, “our raw material is carefully chosen, and it has the best quality, our absorption technology is also highly developed.”
She explained that Ecosupp is the pioneer in Israel of liposomal technology, which facilitates the easy absorption of nutrients into the body.
“Our slogan is ‘the connection between science and nature’ and it is very important to us to say that all our products are sustainable, promote ecological values and are vegan,” she said.
Biba explained that, for example, vitamin D is usually made from fish liver, and her company’s is 100% vegan. “It’s made from the lichen plant which is a combination of an algae and a fungus that absorbs the sun’s rays,” she explained.
Biba added that she identified the need for her business since she was a vegan sportswoman and marathon runner and noticed that the dietary supplements she needed were not available on the Israeli market.
Reiner Weerman, managing director for the Middle East and North Africa region at Upfield, a Dutch company which claims to be the largest plant-based food company in the world, was also at the festival.
Upfield has many brands of plant-based foods. One of them is Violife, which focuses on the production of vegan cheeses.
“We’re now in about 65 countries where we’ve deployed Violife and it’s growing like crazy,” Weerman told The Media Line.
The reason it grows so well, he continued, “is that it’s one of the only vegan cheeses that’s free from everything; so it’s nut-free, palm oil-free, allergen-free, lactose-free, 100% natural and delicious.
The main ingredients of Violife cheeses are vegetables and coconut oil.
Weerman said eating vegan food is a great way to fight global warming.
“I know the real impacts of food on climate change,” he said. “Food causes 1/3 of CO2 emissions, which is the main driver of global warming.” If we don’t change the way we eat, Weerman added, “we won’t fight climate change, it’s as simple as that.”
He explained that by 2050, the world will feed 10 billion people, which is not sustainable. “So what we need to do, to make the very complex problem very simple, is reduce CO2 emissions per dish,” he said.
That’s why, he explained, “we feel it’s our responsibility as the largest plant-based food company in the world; we invest millions in developing great-tasting plant-based foods because we know we can talk about CO2 emissions forever but, at the end of the day, whether we’re chefs or people at home, we just want to have a good dish with a lot of taste.”
Weerman described Israel as a very interesting market since Israelis are the pioneers in adopting plant-based foods.
“I think Tel Aviv is the plant-based food capital of the world. Basically, what you see here in the market will happen elsewhere one, two or three years later,” he said.
That’s why the whole world is here now, he added. “That’s why Violife is here now, because that’s where you can feel the ground, you know what’s going to happen, you can look around and see what’s going to happen somewhere else, in the United States and in Europe, in a few years.”
Maayan Eliasi was also showcasing his vegan protein bakery at the festival. She’s a vegan bodybuilder who believes she can stay natural and vegan while building muscle.
“I had an abusive relationship and it all happened with the understanding that I love animals and I couldn’t do that anymore,” she told The Media Line.
She explained how many were skeptical of her success as she tried to win bodybuilding competitions while maintaining a vegan lifestyle and going natural.
“I’ve won the title of Miss Israel four times and now I represent Israeli bodybuilding and WNBF, a union that is for natural bodybuilding, without substances; we have a polygraph test and urine tests and I’m going to represent Israel in Vegas this year,” she explained.
That’s why she created a vegan protein bakery with Anastasia, who is an English doctor of biochemistry and also a lifter.
“It’s very difficult because it’s hard for people to believe that we can actually get all these proteins without killing animals; it’s all plant-based, it’s all sustainable,” she said.
These two successful, vegan bodybuilders want to show the world that it’s possible to build muscle using the protein in legumes.
Ismail Manal owns a vegan restaurant of Arabic cuisine.
“All my food is vegan today, it’s made from the best raw materials, every meal is based on Arabic cuisine, it’s authentic Arabic food,” she said.
She described how amazed she is by the products plants can provide.
Manal said “vegan food is much healthier, organic and shows us that we too can live without disturbing animals”.