A couple is in a supermarket buying meat for a holiday meal. Rejecting a frozen package, the woman asks the butcher for extra-fresh lamb. A smiling assistant appears and hands the stunned woman a cuddly live lamb.

“You want it chopped or wrapped?” he asks, and it’s obvious she won’t be eating that lamb.

This recent TV ad from Israel’s Vegan Friendly nonprofit organization was seen by 35 percent of the Israeli population. In an independent survey, about 150,000 Israelis said the ad influenced them to stop or reduce consuming meat.

The commercial was translated by vegan activists abroad into languages such as Cantonese, Hindi, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.

On November 1, World Vegan Day will kick off World Vegan Month, aimed at raising awareness of the health, environmental and animal cruelty issues involved in the production of meat, dairy, fish, eggs, leather, wool and other products derived from living beings.

Omri Paz, who founded Vegan Friendly in 2012 to promote and enhance the vegan lifestyle in Israel, says dozens of activists in England, Brazil, Australia and India have contacted him for consultation in recent days.

“We’re considered the most vegan country in the world,” Paz tells ISRAEL21c, citing the latest statistics that 5% of Israelis are vegan, 4% vegetarian and 8% flexitarian (semi-vegetarian). “Things are happening here before other places.”

In October 2014, Israel hosted the world’s largest vegan festival. Corporate sponsors included Domino’s Pizza, which chose Israel to test its first-ever dairy-free pizzas following a Vegan Friendly Facebook campaign in 2013.

The Vegan Friendly logo now appears at 1,500 Israeli eateries and on 6,500 products including Adidas’ new leather-free footwear, also debuted in Israel.

Adidas introduced its new vegan shoes in Israel. Photo courtesy of Vegan Friendly

Going international

“Since August 2019, we had about 50 new businesses every month that got certified as ‘vegan friendly’ or 100% vegan,” says Paz.

Even during the pandemic, the number is growing. The nine-restaurant Giraffe chain is the latest to add a vegan menu.

More than 30 companies – including Microsoft Israel, AppsFlyer and Helen Doron ESL learning centers— have joined Vegan Friendly’s new workplace certification program.

These companies commit to providing vegan options in their kitchens, cafeterias, off-site events, employee gifts and even office décor (no leather). “And the essence of the company can’t be something that exploits animals,” Paz adds.

In May, Vegan Friendly opened a UK branch with an active social-media presence and more than 50 certified businesses, including the 500-restaurant Papa Jones chain.

“We grew fast in the last couple of years. Two and a half years ago, it was me and two other employees working from my house,” says Paz. “Now we have 25 employees in Israel and three in the UK.”

Poster child for veganism

Why has Israel become the unofficial vegan capital of the world?

Paz says it’s a combination of being a small country with strong social media; a culture that encourages people to voice their opinions; and “really effective vegan organizations with revolutionary campaigns.”

The majority of Israeli vegans cite moral reasons as their motivation, Paz adds.

Photo courtesy of Lantern Publishing

Prof. Richard Schwartz, Israel-based president of the interfaith Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians, believes Jewish values are a factor.

“We’re supposed to be a light unto the nations,” says Schwartz, author of books including Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing Judaism.

“Animal-centered diets violate and contradict Jewish mandates to preserve human health, safeguard the welfare of animals, protect the environment, conserve resources, help feed hungry people, and pursue peace,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

“I hope people are becoming more aware of the negative health effects of animal products, how animals are treated in the meat and dairy industry, how animal-based agriculture contributes to climate threats and world hunger and poverty, and the fact that this terrible pandemic is due to mistreatment of animals, as were swine flu, bird flu and SARS.”

‘Nothing short of astounding’

Recent Israeli immigrant Jessica Sandler, a consultant to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and its former VP for regulatory testing, tells ISRAEL21c: “There is always much more work to be done to prevent animal suffering, but the change in Israel over the past decade or so is nothing short of astounding.”

“There’s no question that Israel is a global leader in veganism,” she adds.

“It doesn’t just have the highest per capita of vegans in the world and a military that provides vegan meals, clothing and boots to its citizen-soldiers. Israel is second only to the US in lab-based meat and dairy startups and its prime minister recently appointed an animal activist as adviser on animal matters.”

Israeli vegan activist Tal Gilboa enjoying a glass of soy milk. Photo via Facebook

That activist, reality TV celebrity Tal Gilboa, tells ISRAEL21c she knows of no other government that created a position like hers.

“Really, I’m not sure there is a country that is as easy to be vegan as in Israel,” she says.

Projects she’s supporting include stricter enforcement of animal-cruelty laws, legislation to limit hunting and fur imports, and the alternative protein industry.

How did Tel Aviv become the vegan capital of the world?

Reminder: Tel Aviv is still the vegan capital of the world! Vegans in Israel are blessed with local gems that are vegan by design, but beyond those there are unique dishes that will make even carnivores drool.Yesterday we celebrated World Vegan Day, today we're celebrating with some delicious vegan burgers ????. Happy World Vegan Day from ????????!!משק ברזילי אנסטסיה

Posted by Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday, November 2, 2020

Click here to read about how Israel is a major source of alternative protein R&D including plant-based meat, egg and dairy analogs as well as cultivated (lab-grown) meat.