Once upon a time (according to the owner of the bed and breakfast that I recently stayed at in Amirim), a young group of idealistic vegetarians gathered in central Israel and decided that they needed to get away from all that civilization. (Mind you, this was in the 1950s, just a few years after the young country declared independence and it is unclear how “civilized” the country was anyway.)
This group marched up to the Israel Land Authority asking to be granted space in a remote location, and was given a town in the Galilee that had been deserted by previous settlers. And thus, the strictly vegetarian village of Amirim was born. The village has maintained its early vegetarian roots to this day, and all (or at least 95%) of its residents just say no to meat.
As a vegetarian of 20 years myself, Amirim naturally had quite an appeal for me. A whole village of vegetarians? I conjured images in my head of what the houses might look like, and a-la Hansel and Gretel I imagined houses made of tofu bricks, trees that were larger versions of broccoli, and tempeh roads.
I was lucky enough to be taken for my first visit to Amirim this past weekend, and my fanciful illusions were put to rest.Amirim looked nothing like what I imagined – it was even more beautiful (check out the views above and below). Perched on top of a mountain in the Galilee, Amirim overlooks the Sea of Galilee, the neighboring towns, and lots of green. The air is fresh, it is refreshingly quiet, and rosemary and other herbs seem to grow like weeds.
But the food? Nothing to write home about (or recommend warmly to Green Prophet readers). The food at this self proclaimed vegetarian haven was standard at best and led me to believe that the villagers left their food standards back in the 1950s as well. Vegetarianism has come a long way, baby, but it seems like Amirim has kept it old school (and not in the good way).
Vegetarianism in Israel in the 1950s probably meant, for the most part, eating all of the vegetable side dishes that accompany meat. Some roasted eggplant, some peppers stuffed with rice, a variety of salads… and that’s what I found at Amirim. Even at the village’s most renowned restaurant, Dalia’s, all I found were overpriced kibbutz cafeteria side dishes and a few minor highlights (I must admit, the almond and peanut patties were yummy). When dining at a “normal” or carnivore-oriented restaurant, I would expect to have to make do with such dishes and skip the protein. I can forgive a standard urban Italian restaurant its lack of tempeh. But to have no delicious, fun vegetarian proteins available in a vegetarian village?
Where’s the seitan, Amirim? The vegetarian bacon? The soy chorizo?
It almost seems like Amirim knows that it will be visited by hungry vegetarians such as yours truly, knows that it is unique, and stopped trying a while ago. A vegetarian village is an attraction and people will come regardless, so why bother making it a gourmet vegetarian mecca (and convince some carnivores to skip a few bites of steak in the process)? We can just overcharge for our protein-less, mediocre dishes and make bank anyway.
Sadly, I’ve had better vegetarian food in the homes of highly carnivorous friends.
At a time when it is more important than ever to convince people to go vegetarian – the meat industry is one of the most energy intensive and carbon emitting enterprises in the world – it is unfortunate that Amirim can’t give people a delicious or good reason why.
Images via: smontagu
Read more about Amirim::
The Pacifists and Vegetarians from Amirim
Green Prophet Visits Amirim, a Vegetarian Paradise in the Galilee
Dria Peterson’s Handmade Creations, Born From a Genealogy of Vegetarianism and Recycling