In Israel, Veganism for the Masses

The increase in vegetarian and vegan options in supermarkets and restaurants was the biggest food trend in Israel this year. The move reflects a desire for healthier eating.

Illustration by Amos Biderman.

Of all the notable trends in the food industry over the past 12 months, the most striking was one that will no doubt continue to be a factor in the years to come: veganism’s shift from the margins to the mainstream.

Previously, the food industry was chiefly focused on creating substitutes to satisfy vegans’ longing for foods derived from animals and animal products. Gradually, though, the aim has been to appeal to a much wider audience – non-vegans who have other reasons for wanting to improve their diet.

Primarily, the trend of “vegan food for all” is affecting the strategies of the major food companies, who are conducting polls and using that information to try and capture a larger slice of the expanding target audience. In the past, these firms could disregard the small, hard-core group of vegans that abstains from all animal products for ethical reasons. But the new target market, which is interested in vegan food for health reasons, is another story altogether. This audience is looking at vegan products because they’ve become synonymous with “healthy” and “quality” ingredients.

Take a glance at the shelves in any regular supermarket these days and the change is soon apparent. Look at all the milk substitutes on offer: almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and the list goes on. Israeli dairy giant Tnuva recently released its own almond milk product. It wasn’t so long ago that these milk substitutes – milk drinks, as they are correctly called – were marketed mostly to vegans who missed the taste of cow and goat milk. Today, they’re marketed to a much wider audience, one that wants to stay in shape, get healthier, and maybe even help the environment to boot.

Holy cow – tomato-based burgers

Another excellent example of this trend is the new vegetarian offerings at McDonald’s Israel – three tomato-based veggie burgers created by chef Moshik Roth: a grilled burger; something called Crispy Tomato – basically, the grilled burger but with a crispy coating; and tomato nuggets (just like the Crispy Tomato, but smaller). Until now, vegetarians and vegans who ate at McDonald’s would only eat a bun with sauces, and there was no point going to any special effort for them. Now, however, the non-vegan population that actively wants a veggie burger has grown to the point where the chain realized it was time to roll its sleeves up and devise some new additions for the menu.

The choice of Michelin-starred chef Roth – who is better known for what he does with foie gras than sprouts and lentils – is a clear statement of intent about the type of client the chain is after. Because, let’s face it, if it wanted to tempt vegans to patronize McDonald’s, it wouldn’t need to have Roth’s name attached. Roth said in one interview that the tomato burger is served as a first course at his acclaimed restaurant in Amsterdam.

It may sound petty, but one has to wonder whether McDonald’s new veggie burgers are grilled together with the meat hamburgers, on the same surface – which would render them unacceptable to most vegetarians and vegans. As I understand it, McDonald’s doesn’t particularly care about such issues, since the audience it is trying to reach here is carnivores who don’t always want to eat meat – not strict vegans who miss their meat-eating days of yore.

No mean feat

The meatless burger is one of the main players in the new vegetarian trend: over the past year, it has been debuting at numerous restaurants known for their meat menus. People say the new vegan burger at Israeli restaurant chain Moses is tasty, filling and doesn’t fall apart – no mean feat when not only is it meat-free, it’s egg-free, too.

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Vegan options have been appearing on menus in nearly all the big chains, all of them looking to attract the same new target audience. Some of these are more successful than others; some also aim to modify ingrained habits like using lots of added sugar and salt in favor of more delicate natural seasonings. The sense of taste is not confined to the taste buds; it’s also a matter of consciousness.

Vegan food has increasingly become the choice of someone who wants to throw off the shackles of the big chains and ask questions: about his own health, about animal exploitation, about the health of the planet. And for long-time vegans, it’s a win-win. They’re no longer looked upon as such a fringe element, and have a much wider selection to choose from on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus.