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In the IDF, It’s Religion Versus Vegans

An army cook was disciplined after cooking a hot meal for a vegan soldier on Shabbat

Liel Leibovitz
June 25, 2018
Assi Meidan/IDF via Getty Images
IDF soldiers enjoying a treatAssi Meidan/IDF via Getty Images
Assi Meidan/IDF via Getty Images
IDF soldiers enjoying a treatAssi Meidan/IDF via Getty Images

Napoleon, Frederick the Great, or whoever it was who said that an army marches on its stomach probably never imagined the plight of a vegan soldier in the IDF who, after a long day of operations on the Lebanese border last week, returned to his base only to discover that all the hot food on hand contained meat. Even worse, Shabbat had just begun, and the IDF being a Jewish army, all cooking between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday is prohibited. The starved soldier considered his options—a few slices of bread and some unappetizing salads—and decided to go chat with one of the cooks on duty, hoping that some other dish that did not contain animal products might materialize.

The cook, feeling sorry for the hungry warrior, dashed to the kitchen, turned on the stove, and whipped up a plate of warm hummus with chick peas, filling and nutritious. Unfortunately for him, one of the officers on duty caught sight of the infraction—turning on a stove on Shabbat is against army regulations—and the cook was soon sentenced to 14 days detention. The now well-fed warrior took to Facebook to drum up support for his benefactor, but the army was unmoved.

“Cooking on Shabbat is against regulations,” the IDF spokesperson’s unit said in a statement, “which is why the cook was disciplined. An investigation of the matter showed that the kitchen in question had a bounty of alternative solutions as well as designated vegan rations that require no cooking on Shabbat. The IDF takes care of the well-being of all of its soldiers and is careful to provide a variety of appropriate alternatives to vegan soldiers.”

Many vegan soldiers, however, beg to differ. Earlier this year, 550 vegan soldiers and officers filed a complaint to the army’s ombudsman—one of the largest organized groups to do so in the army’s history—demanding better food options. While the army is making an effort to provide vegan soldiers with adequate nutrition, read the complaint, many offerings, like the ubiquitous corn schnitzel currently on the IDF’s vegan menu, contain little protein, and many of the supplies intended for vegans, like nondairy soy-based treats, are consumed by nonvegan soldiers before they reach their intended audience. According to the complaint, there are currently more than 10,000 vegans serving in the IDF.

A senior official in the army’s logistics branch told the Israeli press recently that the army was stepping up its plant-based efforts. “We hand out certificates of appreciation to army kitchen workers who meet the needs of vegans,” said the source. “And once a month, we convene study groups that learn from civilian organizations promoting veganism. Only recently, we attended a ‘meatless Monday’ conference to help raise our consciousness.”

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.