We have a lot to learn from Tel Aviv on how to enjoy a cruelty-free, simple, healthy lifestyle while relishing delicious meals on our dinner tables
Today, most of America is on the streets avenging the death of George Floyd in hopes to prevent similar unfair treatment meted out to African American people of their country. The #blacklivesmatter movement has quickly travelled outside the nation and across the world taking on various shapes and forms with the same integral message: discrimination based on skin colour, race, gender, religion and caste is not to be tolerated anymore. Allowing privileges to one human over the other based on any of the aforementioned criteria is unfair, wrong and illegal. That brings me to my point – why is it still legal to allow privileges and biases between two organisms and life-forms? Why is it legal for one to hang a chicken upside down for hours at end, or force a cow to give us her milk, when torturing a human or forcing milk off of a woman are both unthinkable acts that result in grave punishments by law?
It was only in 1781, that this idea was first expressed by philosopher Jeremy Bentham who wrote “The French have already discovered that the blackness of skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate.”
Like #blacklivesmatter – #animallivesmatter too, and there is one city that is showing us how best to achieve and inculcate an animal-friendly lifestyle: Tel Aviv – the Vegan Capital of the World. Formerly known as The Land of Milk and Honey, Israel can now more appropriately be tagged as the land of coconut milk and date honey. The almost overnight transformation can be attributed to a viral video and the man in it – Gary Yourofsky.
Jewish-American, and an activist, Gary has been imprisoned over 13 times for acts of kindness such as releasing 1,542 minks from a fur farm in Canada. If a man saved 1500+ humans from getting skinned alive, he would be applauded and not punished, but because we discriminate between humans and animals – Gary was severely penalized. Years later, his lecture at Georgia Tech was filmed and struck a chord with half the population of Israel. In the video he helps people realize how discrimination against animals is as wrong as harbouring biases against people who are born of a certain race, or pray to a certain God, or are of a certain gender. He refers to slaughterhouses as “concentration camps” where animals experience a “holocaust” and says, “How would you feel if the day that you were born, somebody else had already planned the day of your execution? That’s what it’s like to be a cow, a pig, a chicken, or a turkey on this planet.”
The video had remarkable effects. Owners of restaurants that serveed meat switched to a vegan diet and a vegan menu-card overnight. Thousands joined in the movement, and now there are over 400 vegan-friendly restaurants serving more than 200,000 vegans of Israel.
The following are ways in which we can learn from Tel Aviv on how to enjoy a cruelty-free, simple, healthy lifestyle while relishing delicious meals on our dinner tables:-
Encourage a “Farm to Fork” Food Cycle
A small sized country is often considered to be a big disadvantage, but Israel thinks otherwise. They make the most of the fact that you can drive from one end of the country to the other within 3 hours. To start with, they eat what they grow, and with such short distances to cover, they ensure that they eat it right after they farm it. It is very likely that the watermelon you scoop and eat in Tel Aviv has been plucked from a local farm that same morning. The coastal city makes the most of its location and warm climate and enjoys seasonal and local food. From juicy tomatoes and succulent courgettes to ripened plums and sweet peppers, all efforts that otherwise go into the rearing and killing of cattle goes into the farming of fresh fruits and vegetables.
A typical day in the life of a chef/restaurant owner begins with a walk amidst the vibrant “shuks” or Israeli markets and ends on a guilt-free, satisfying note of having lost no lives in the nourishment of many other lives.
Hence, the biggest takeaway here is to buy locally grown food, and encourage the growth of seasonal produce in our neighbourhoods – while also making advantageous use of our city’s location and climate.
Experiment and Innovate with Meat Alternates
Many believe that vegans are restricted to a diet of leaves. A visit to Tel Aviv is sure to change their mind. A typical menu at a vegan restaurant has breads, falafels, steaks, puddings and pies – all animal-free, cruelty-free and scrumptious. Every table is dressed with mouth-watering dishes and an explosion of unique flavours. They prove to the world that a vegan diet is an invitation into innovation with a spread of fresh grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables waiting to be experimented with.
Israel, and now the rest of the world, have come up with meat-free alternatives for every dish you can imagine from pizzas to shawarma. Food giants like Dominos have joined the race by serving their first animal-free pizzas made up of soy-cheese in Israel while Ben and Jerry’s sell tubs of de-milked Chunky Monkey and Fudge Brownie ice cream. All we have to do is create enough of a demand, and soon enough they will be selling like hot cakes in our neighbourhoods while giving us a chance to enjoy two scoops of flavour with no scoops of guilt.
Embrace an Animal-Free Lifestyle
Veganism is not a diet, it is a lifestyle: a life independent of animals. When we don’t let animals live off human body parts, why do we require animal parts to survive? We don’t, and Tel Aviv is a living example of how.
The Israeli defence forces march in animal-free boots, wear leather-free belts and eat a vegan diet – as do most of the politicians, celebrities and athletes in the country. At the end of the day, it is all about making a choice, and sticking with it. For instance, by choosing a faux leather bag that feels and looks exactly like a leather bag – you are effectively allowing cattle to graze in fields and go on with their lives instead of locking them up in tiny cages for their skin and hides.
Explore New Cultures
When you are a vegan, cultures know no boundaries. Restaurants in Tel Aviv have multicultural kitchens, and as Jo Cohen from Cafe Kaymak says, “we draw from many wells.” The vegan food in Tel Aviv has a touch of “Turkey and Greece as well as Japan, Morocco, Tunisia and, of course, the Middle East.” Kaymak’s signature dish galean mjadra is a melting pot of several cuisines coming together – lentils, paprika, almonds and berries, on a base of bulgur wheat, dressed with salsa and tahini. Spices brought in by immigrants from Austria, Morocco, Russia, Iraq and Yemen add to the luscious flavours of a meal. Each bite is a revel of good health, kindness and the coming together of cultures.
Invent and Update Technology
Alongside Vegan Capital of the World, Israel is also known as the Startup Nation due to their ever-evolving technology. The youth of the country are putting their heads together to produce high-quality meat-free products – and have already made the world’s first cell-grown minute steak in December 2018. Eshchar Ben-Shitrit, developed 3D printed vegan steaks through his startup Jet-Eat. His being one of 250 other companies in Israel working in the food-technology industry. On the other spectrum, VeganNation has launched VeganCoin – a cruelty-free cryptocurrency – that aims to unite vegans from across the world – sharing vegan products that range from clothes to dishes. The country is also on it’s way to releasing a virtual reality software that allows meat-eaters to experience what slaughtering of animals is like from the point of view of an animal to prevent future discrimination against them.
The many vegans of Israel followed in the footsteps of some of the most intelligent minds of the world who also happen to be vegetarians/vegans: Socrates, Einstein, Pythagoras, Newton, Da Vinci etc, and now they’re carrying forth their legacy while inviting us to exude empathy towards animals and live in utmost harmony with our planet.