Plant-based food is slated to be the hottest culinary trend of 2018, according to many food-trend lists, and Israel is well ahead of the game.New York-based international food and restaurant consulting company Baum+Whiteman has said that restaurants are way behind the curve when it comes to a rapid consumer shift to plant-based foods, but expect that to change in 2018.“Millennials and Gen X and Zers are embracing “plant-based” food while still young... and probably sticking with it. So we’re looking at a food industry divide... where plant-based products capture increasing shelf space in supermarkets but (so far) little space on restaurant menus,” the consultants said.They predicted that in the new year, more and more restaurants will offer vegan dishes, to catch up with the growing number of people who are embracing vegan foods.According to data published by Baum+Whiteman, 83% of US consumers are adding plant-based foods to their diets to improve health and nutrition, while 62% do so for weight management.The firm also noted that 58% of adults drink non-dairy milk, and Google has seen a 90% increase in vegan searches in the past year. In addition, Google, along with Panera Bread, Hilton Hotels, Stanford University, Unilever and Sodexo, is developing “plant-forward” menu items in an effort to minimize consumption of animal-based foods.Between 2012 and 2016, market research group Mintel said they’ve seen a 25% increase in vegetarian claims and a 257% rise in vegan claims in new grocery store products. The group also says that 31% of Americans practice meat-free days.Only 6% of North Americans, however, follow vegetarian diets, and less than 3% identify as vegans.Transnational consumer good company Unilever also listed plant-based dining among its “2018 food trend predictions,” as did high-end grocer Whole Foods and British taste and texture specialists ITS.“With nutrition and wellness taking center stage in the F&B [food and beverage] industry, the team at International Taste Solution sees a consistent pattern in bringing this practice to kitchens and menus. Already proven to be a major hit in 2017 with the increased availability and variety of vegetarian and vegan meal options in restaurants, diners are slowly embracing animal-free diets as a health-conscious effort,” Unilever said.Meanwhile, 2018 is also expected to see a continued rise in flexitarianism, a plant-based diet with the occasional inclusion of meat. “The ideal option for consumers seeking a balanced meal plan between a normal and fully vegan diet, going green is the obvious trend to follow next year,” it added.These forecasts were touted by Israeli animal rights activists, who noted that the Jewish state is a leader of this trend. With 5% of its population identifying as vegan, Israel boasts the highest percentage of vegans per capita in the world. Also, 8-10% of Israelis are vegetarians, and about 40% of Israelis say they have reduced their consumption of animal-based food, according to the Israeli group Anonymous for Animal Rights.Tel Aviv was recently dubbed the “vegan capital of the world” by British newspaper The Independent, which praised the city’s 400 vegan-friendly restaurants.Anonymous for Animal Rights seized the opportunity to promote its Challenge 22+, an initiative that helps those interested in trying out a vegan lifestyle to do so with the help of clinical nutritionists, cooks and veteran vegans. Following the success of the project, Anonymous for Animal Rights launched an international version of it two years ago. Neta Rosenthal, project manager of Challenge 22+, said that the organization receives thousands of requests each month from some 150 countries, from Canada and Britain, to Morocco, Zimbabwe and Mongolia.“Parallel to the success of the Israeli Challenge, the success of the International Challenge 22+ proves that the trend of transition to plant-based foods continues to increase, and it is clear that this trend is here to stay,” she said.