Vegan Israeli soldiers have a beef about army grub

IDF vegan soldiersA battalion of vegan soldiers dissatisfied with military menus have fired off a complaint to Israel Defense Force (IDF) ombudsman Brigadier General (res.) Yitzhak Brik. The soldiers claim that IDF policy doesn’t give special food for vegan troops yet prohibits them from bringing their own home-prepared food into military dining halls. They contend that an alternative solution – ordering specialty food deliveries –  is expensive and problematic for those residing on more remote army bases.

“The soldiers receive extra salary and…the dining rooms…fully meet their needs,” an IDF spokesperson told Haaretz. This special allowance is to pay to for food appropriate to their chosen diet; soldiers residing full-time on base receive a supplemental $157 per month, and soldiers who live off-base, earn about half that.  The soldiers claim that the allowance is insufficient to underwrite a daily vegan menu.

An unnamed soldier said, “We would prefer that vegan meals be provided, rather than giving us money, because soldiers who do not go home for two weeks have nothing to buy or prepare. In the end this would be more nutritious for the soldiers and would lower costs for the army.”

Veganism is serious business in Israel, with an estimated 2.5% of the population gone off animal products. In addition, a 2013 survey by the Israeli food industry estimates the number of vegetarians to be 5%, and growing. Businesses are responding to the dietary shift, making veganism increasingly accessible and socially acceptable. The diet is consistent with Jewish teachings about protecting human health and the environment, and treating animals with compassion.

Green Prophet brought you recent news of a prison inmate who won the right to eat vegan meals in an Israeli jail. And last week, thousands of people descended on Ramat Gan National near Tel Aviv to attend the second annual Vegan Fest which featured over 100 vendors selling vegan food, clothing, books, vegan condoms (who knew milk proteins went into condoms?) and synthetic-fur shtreimels (classic Hasidic hats).

People arrive at a vegan diets by a variety of pathways.  There are the health benefits of an all-vegetable diet. There is the animal rights angle. And there is the proven link to environmental conservation. Given mandatory military service, it is natural that trends in the wider Israeli populace are mirrored in the behavior of army personnel.  To that end, the IDF provides vegan soldiers with a non-wool beret and non-leather shoes. Some soldiers have pointed out that official recognition as a vegan can be a long procedure, and without proper classification they are face with steep spending on non-animal food products critical to their health and well-being.

Vegan combat soldiers told Haaretz that during remote training they faced real difficulties procuring proper food, the situation made more complicated as they lacked access to refrigeration. Soldiers also complain of problems related to kashrut, and prohibitions on the operation of electrical equipment on Sabbaths and holidays. The result is compromised nutrition.

We’ll be looking to see how the military responds to the troops’ legitimate request that their dietary choices be respected and enabled.  We don’t know how this story will end, what we do know is the soldiers won’t be ordering cheese to go with their “whine”.

Image of IDF soldier having a drink from Shutterstock

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