Substituting schnitzel, hamburgers and hot dogs with soy and mushroom-based lookalikes, Israel’s vegan population refused to forgo the national tradition of Independence Day barbecues Thursday.
About 4,000 people attended the third annual Vegan Barbecue, a sold-out event organized by the nonprofit organization Vegan-Friendly on the city of Ra’anana’s soccer field. Revelers arrived in droves to line up for meatless kebabs and top their chargrilled fare with pickles and tomatoes as sunny afternoon skies overtook the morning’s stormy conditions.
“With the vegan barbecue, it basically started with the fact that on Independence Day, for almost all the vegans in Israel, there’s nothing to do,” Omri Paz director of Vegan- Friendly, told The Jerusalem Post
. “Everywhere you go you need to face dead bodies of animals on barbecues.”
Vegan-Friendly, which aims to make veganism accessible and socially acceptable among Israelis, expanded the barbecue to include 4,000 people this year, after receiving 1,500 participants last year and 500 in 2013. The organization also runs an annual, much larger event, called the Vegan Festival, which in October 2014 attracted some 15,000 attendees to Ramat Gan National Park for the largest vegan festival in the world.
The Vegan Barbecue is supposed to be a smaller, more intimate event, while the Vegan Festival aims “to be as big as possible,” Paz explained.
At their Independence Day barbecue, the organization endeavors to show people how they can enjoy the country’s national traditions without actually eating a meat-based hamburger, he said. In fact, only about 50 percent of the people who purchased advanced tickets responded to a survey that they were vegans, while others were vegetarians and meat-eaters, according to Paz.
“It’s going to look like [meat], it’s going to taste like it, it’s going to smell like it,” Paz added. “The point is to show that you can also enjoy vegan food that is tasty and have a good time.”
Upon entering the soccer field before even arriving at the barbecue area, participants weaved through a number of stalls selling items ranging from bedazzled pet collars and Japanese- made canvas shoes to organic tampons, vegan cupcakes and meat and egg substitute products.
At the barbecue itself, for which participants could purchase vouchers ahead of time or on-site, masses of people waited for vegetable kebabs and vegan shwarma, schnitzel, chicken breasts, burgers and hot dogs. For those who did not bring plates from home – which Vegan Friendly suggested – meals were served on biodegradable dishes that volunteers promptly collected after use.
While participants were excited for the opportunity to take part in a meatless Independence Day barbecue, many were frustrated with the long lines to receive their prepaid meals off the grill, finding that some items had run out by the time they reached the front.
“It’s the only vegan thing in Israel – there are no other options,” Hadera resident Nimrod Averbuck, 45, told the Post
. “The outcome is very nice, but they could have been better organized.”
Yet, despite the wait, Averbuck stressed that he was having a great time at the event.
“That’s the only option for vegans,” he said. “Instead of going to a barbecue with dead animals, you can actually enjoy it.”
Also attending were about 20 members of the Hebrew Israelite Community in Dimona, known as kibbutz Shomrei Hashalom (Guardians of Peace).
Arriving in Israel from the United States via Liberia beginning in 1969, the some 2,000 Shomrei Hashalom members consider themselves descendants of the tribe of Judah and include strict veganism among their cultural practices, according to the Foreign Ministry.
“It’s nice to see Israel as a whole experiencing [veganism] and coming into the world I was raised in,” said Koliel Webb, 25, whose family originally hails from Florida. “When I was growing up, it was hard to eat out, but now the movement is expanding. I’m rooting for the growth.”
Everyone in the Shomrei Hashalom movement practices veganism – part of the custom of going back to the “beginning” – the behaviors of Adam and Eve in Genesis – explained David Gresham, 28, whose family came to Israel from Georgia.
Oriyahu Butler, 29, however, said he simply came to the event because he was hungry and heard that “this was the hot spot” for a vegan Independence Day.
Webb’s parents, Vashti Smith and Ben Koliyah Webb, said they donated about 4,000 servings of vegan hamburgers, schnitzels, hot dogs, shwarma and kebabs from their company Vegan Deli.
What started as a community- based business to serve vegan needs within Shomrei Hashalom has expanded to provide numerous meatless products to the expanding Israeli vegan population via both natural grocery stores and vegan restaurants, the elder Webb explained.
“When awareness came to Israel, we saw an opportunity,” he said. “We are the longest standing [vegan] business in Israel.”
Although they are vegans as a result of religious beliefs rather than the animal rights movement, Webb stressed that they were very welcoming. “Whatever your reason for being vegan, we are okay with that,” he told the Post
Relative newcomers to the vegan community, Modi’in high schoolers Naveh Shovali, 16, and Dana Shelhav, 17, stressed how happy they were to have a place to properly celebrate Independence Day.
“It was a lot of fun – despite the lines –it really was an experience,” Shovali said. Shelhav has only been a vegan for two months, while Shovali has been for a year. Sitting on the grass among the several thousand of participants, Shovali said veganism is much more than simply a short-lived phenomenon.
“I don’t think it’s a trend because trends come and go,” he said. “I think veganism is here to stay.”