Eat Like a Minister

The Knesset has cracked down on bourekas and rugelach in meetings, but while some MKs now serve only fruit and vegetables in their offices, others keep drawers full of cookies and candy bars

Michal Palti
Michal Palti

Bourekas - those flaky and fattening savory pastries - have never had a worse standing in the Knesset. The trays of oily triangles, once served at every opportunity, have gone missing.

Cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser recently gave orders to change the menu at government meetings to be more healthy. Bourekas and their sweet sister, the rolled cookie rugelach, have been expelled, perhaps never to return.

Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Eli Yishai, Avigdor Lieberman and Tzipy Livni all have different eating habits in the Knesset,Credit: Izhar Shkedi

In their place are hard-boiled eggs, granola, low-fat yogurt and cheese, whole grain breads, and raw vegetables and fruit.

"At first, there was some bitterness among the MKs," Hauser admits. "Not everyone agreed to the ban on bourekas and rugelach. They were addicted and we had to wean them. Now and then we offer cookies or rugelach for dessert, so that the change won't be too drastic."

Many MKs have joined the healthy trend. Government ministers have removed all bottles of pop from office meetings and the refreshments offered now are low-calorie and low-cost.

Most MKs still eat the lunch served at the Knesset cafeteria for NIS 30, and only a few order out.

David Jungelsohn, cafeteria manager, offers a selection of main dishes (chicken and fish are the most popular, he says ), soups and eight kinds of salad. There is also a non-dairy dessert bar.

Those who want to limit their carbohydrates may do so at the separate dairy snack bar which offers coffee, cakes and sandwiches, and operates at all hours of the day.

The lunch room closes at 4:30 in the afternoon, replaced by a dairy buffet selling yogurt, sandwiches and omelets. Both operations are open when the Knesset is in session - Mondays through Wednesdays.

"Monday is the busiest," Jungelsohn reports.

Government ministers hold longer meetings in their offices and meeting rooms, when good eating habits deteriorate into gluttonous feasting, according to reliable sources in the Knesset who describe the typical noshes as follows:

Former Knesset member Zehava Gal-On (Meretz ), it seems, has a weakness for good old Twist candy bars. The snack drawer in her office was crammed with them, alongside Ta'ami wafers and piles of chewing gum.

Perhaps due to his army background, Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai (Atzmaut ) likes to eat different flavors of instant noodle mixes, rich in monosodium glutamate, to which one adds boiling water. In his defense, it must be said that fruit is also served in his office.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Atzmaut ) is known for the habit of eating food off other people's plates. And when he doesn't, he eats lemons and whole pumpkin seeds, including the husks. As for cheese, he prefers the salty Safed variety.

Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni's snack drawer holds a lot of chocolate bars, with an emphasis on the Israeli Mekupelet brand, and salty snacks too, her favorite being spicy Dorito chips. Livni is also a fan of street food such as pita, hummus, falafel and especially French fries, but her spokesmen say that she tries to eat less of these and more fruit and vegetables.

Dahlia Itzik (Kadima ), in contrast, likes gourmet food and brings cakes with her to Jerusalem from well-known patisseries in Tel Aviv. Those close to her say that she would never serve a factory-made cake at her meals.

Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor ) munches simple cakes and wafer cookies with his caffeinated black tea. Outside the office, he is known for his affection for large quantities of kabob. Until recently, when he still served as industry, trade and labor minister, his staff members ordered in pizza and sandwiches (at their own expense ) during long meetings.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud ) eats fruit and vegetables at government meetings. His only sin outside of meetings is to eat raisins and nuts, which are healthy but fattening.

The Kurdish dumplings known as kuba are the favorite food of Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud ), whether in the Knesset cafeteria or restaurants or ordered to his office.

Nachman Shai (Kadima ) says that he has no time to think about food. After his regular breakfast, he improvises the rest of the day's meals. "Meals and the Knesset are oxymoronic terms. I find myself eating a big meal in the evening instead of a light one, and that's not good. I try very hard not to touch bourekas and rugelach. There is no free access to food anywhere in the Knesset, so this is possible," he says.

Ruhama Avraham Balila (Kadima ) likes to eat in hotel lobbies, a habit she adopted as tourism minister, and that's also where she prefers to hold work meetings.

Isaac Herzog (Labor ) has a weakness for chocolate, preferably the rich kind with a high percentage of cocoa. At government meetings, he likes to eat cherry tomatoes.

Shaul Mofaz (Kadima ) cannot withstand the temptations of tuna in any shape or form. He brings a plate filled with tuna salad to government meetings.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud ) is on a strict diet these days, and eats chicken and vegetables, without any sinful accompaniments.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud ) too is watching his weight and makes do for the most part with vegetables and fruit between meals.

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat (Likud ) serves fruit and vegetables at her meetings. Only longer meetings justify cookies. Her spokesman emphasizes that the ministry is aware of what makes good nutrition and the Knesset decision to refrain from bourekas.

The Foreign Ministry under Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu ) tries to limit pop and even coffee and serves only tap water, fruit and pretzels. But there is a limit to the asceticism. The office spokesman told Haaretz that "at budget meetings or wage deliberations that go into the night, kosher pizza and sandwiches are ordered in."

When the budget permits, ("once every two years," according to the spokesman ) there are chicken cutlets and kuba. Foreign guests receive cookies. Lieberman himself almost never touches cake and cookies, and eats mostly fruit and vegetables.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas ) has ordered the ministry staff to switch over to fruits and vegetables, to refrain from sweetened drinks and if serving cookies, they must be sugar-free. This menu applies only to regular meeting participants. Guests, in contrast, are served salted snacks and sweet cookies that are stored in a locked cabinet.

The most modest meetings are apparently those held in the Justice Ministry; Minister Yaakov Neeman's spokesmen say that no refreshments at all are served, only drinks.



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