Israel’s Food Tech Founders Unite to Feed 6,000 Vegan Meals to Soldiers
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In the midst of conflict, vegan food companies, chefs and volunteers came together to feed Israeli Defence Force soldiers, their loved ones, and people who have been injured or displaced.
Like the rest of the world, Omer Tal woke up in a state of shock. It was October 7, Hamas had just launched over 5,000 rockets from Gaza on Israeli soil, and it sparked a war that would see over 5,000 killed, 15,000 injured and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Still processing, Tal realised that returning to routine was, unfortunately, a far-fetched fantasy. “I felt a deep-seated need to contribute in a meaningful way,” he recalls. So he called Dor Datner, the owner of 12 eateries in Tel Aviv, and his partner Gilad Harpaz to ask for help.
Israel is a nation known as an alt-protein hub, with investment in this sector accounting for 15% of the global total last year, surpassed only by the US last year. Recognising the food industry’s potential, Tal –the head chef at Redefine Meat, one of the leading vegan meat companies in Israel – wanted to mobilise the sector and feed soldiers on the frontline, their families, those who have been displaced or lie injured in hospital – and anyone without access to nutritious foods during this period.
Fulfilling vegan meals as battle rations in Israel
Tal posted a call for support on Facebook, asking for volunteers to help cook meals and support an army that counts over 10,000 vegans (over 5% of the country’s total population follows a plant-based diet). Within 12 hours, Datner and Harpaz’s central kitchen on Tel Giborim Street (which fittingly translates to ‘hero’s hill’ in Hebrew) saw a flurry of activity being sanitised to kosher and vegan standards.
“I reached out to the army bases via the group Vegan Friendly to find out how many vegan or vegetarian soldiers are in each,” says Liran Cohen, a private chef. As the largest vegan organisation in Israel, it arranges plant-based meals for soldiers with dietary restrictions.
Running over a week, the campaign saw food tech startups, food producers and 100 volunteers and private chefs converge to serve vegan and flexitarian soldiers. “We created meal kits each consisting of 20 portions,” explains Lilach Edman, a vegan pasta chef who managed the kitchen. “Each portion was composed of a 150g protein dish, a portion of carbohydrate and fresh vegetables, plus a plant-based delicious treat. We made sure they contained all the food elements. The typical battle rations that normally come in cans can’t provide vegan soldiers with the sustenance they desperately need.”
Several startups donated raw materials for the plant-based meals, including Redefine Meat, which provided three tons of its 3D-printed beef and lamb analogues. Green Butcher and More Foods also donated plant-based beef products. Meanwhile, YoEgg! Foods contributed with its vegan poached eggs, and Creative Pea offered its pea-based chicken and fish innovations. Plenty 4U, Mama Q and Utopi donated dairy alternatives like vegan cheeses, and E.Y.M. Israeli Tofu donated high-quality tofu.
The kitchen, which ran from October 8-16, produced about 6,000 meals with a diverse selection of protein-rich dishes curated by private chef Noam Carmon. These include vegan schnitzels, spaghetti Bolognese with meatballs, chicken skewers, fish patties, poached eggs in tomato sauce and cheese pastries, among others. Additionally, Ornat donated its dairy- and sugar-free JO-MO chocolates, and Panda Confections contributed its vegan chocolates, and Roy Chocolate provided pralines.
A sense of home and a glimmer of hope
“There were some complex logistics in getting the kits to all the bases and evacuated families,” says Cohen. “But the soldiers’ reactions have been deeply touching – many expressed that the meals provided them with both strength and a comforting sense of home. They were grateful not to have to rely on battle rations. Surprisingly, even some of their carnivorous comrades sampled our vegan dishes and were amazed.”
After a week of tremendous efforts, the kitchen has now closed, but the campaign is still going through smaller private kitchens and restaurants. It’s described as a “first aid ‘food commando'” that supplied meals until other kitchens and organisations were able to properly answer to the needs of soldiers. Now, four different kitchens – including Redefine Meat’s test kitchen – are host to hundreds of volunteers and home cooks serving 2,000 meals a day.
Vegan Friendly arranged an operation room for all the plant-based and vegetarian meals, held a big group of either home cooks or commercial vegetarian kitchens to supply the meals, and took care of the delivery with its own volunteers. Since the attack on October 7, all the kitchens have served a combined 2.5 million meals in Israel, with 250,000 of them being vegan.
Redefine Meat continues to provide raw materials for 70 meals a day. “The other companies and volunteers have pledged to continue their part until the end of the war,” says Tal. “Moreover, some of the kits are also being earmarked for evacuated families and the 5,000 injured survivors in hospitals.”
He adds: “In the midst of the suffering, sadness, anxiety, and pain that continues to affect us, the Israeli community has rallied together to support and strengthen one another. Among the volunteers that turned up were those [who] had just returned from the funeral of a beloved relative, while others were young survivors of the Nova peace festival that was the first line of attack by the terrorists.
“For them, volunteering served as a form of initial compensation for trauma, offering precious moments to breathe and connect back to life. For many, this project has provided a glimmer of light in these dark and challenging times.”