Vegan weddings are growing exponentially in Israel, with cruelty-free food, decor and accessories. It’s hard to find an Israeli who hasn’t been to one.
Israel is the vegan capital of the world, home to a thriving plant-based community of nearly half a million members. Veganism has always been part of Israeli culture but its rise over the past few years has been meteoric.
Six years ago, the vegan community accounted for just 0.5% of Israel’s population, but now it counts for over 5% — a figure that is still growing. Vegan products went from a secluded supermarket shelf frequented by vegans alone to becoming an indistinguishable part of the mainstream shopping experience, popular even with meat-eaters.
“Hotels, clothing stores, cosmetic shops, restaurants, cafes and wedding halls are realising that vegan consumers are a very large audience with great potential for their businesses,” says Ofek Ron, vice president of business development at Vegan-Friendly.co.il. With so many businesses making plant-based options part and parcel of their offerings, the Israeli vegan lifestyle has never been easier to maintain.
A growing trend — believed by some to have started with Gary Yourofsky’s 2012 visit to Israel — is vegan weddings. Once the choice of a tiny minority on the fringe of society, vegan weddings have become a popular option so widespread that it is near impossible to find an Israeli citizen who hasn’t attended one.
Wedding venues have reported a 20% rise in the number of enquiries from couples considering an animal-free celebration. “It is certainly the trend among vegan couples,” says Shlomi Bonfeel of the popular vegan Tel Aviv eatery Banachmani. “But we also see many non-vegan couples who choose to include a full vegan menu at the wedding,” right alongside the standard meat options.
“There used to be many jokes about vegan weddings,” says Eli Mann, an IT specialist supporting the food and catering industry in Israel, “all involving guests bringing sandwiches from home and going for a shawarma afterwards. You don’t hear them so much now because these events are so upmarket, but also because too many people have actually been to a vegan wedding and experienced the food firsthand.”
Ron himself celebrated his nuptials at a fully vegan wedding. He and his bride-to-be, Adva, chose to inform close family members of the animal-free menu, but left other guests completely unaware. The ‘risk’ paid off. “We got amazing feedback from guests who loved the food,” he recalls. “We were actually complimented on it.”
Israel is home to a multitude of cultures, each bringing its own flavours and spices to the mix. “Israel’s multicultural cuisine is naturally rich in fruit and vegetables,” remarks Tal Gilboa, the prime minister’s advisor on animal matters. “Many of the country’s staple dishes such as hummus and falafel are, in fact, all vegan”. It is the main course that poses the greatest challenge for guests.
“We are so used to the traditional choice of fish, chicken or meat options at weddings that the vegan menu took us by surprise,” says wedding guest Silvi Kadoshim. “It was different because of what our pallets are so used to and what we have been conditioned to eat all our lives, but the food was really delicious.”
This sentiment is echoed by Banachmani’s Bonfeel: “Many people still believe that full protein can only come from animals. They worry about still being hungry at the end of the meal, but this fear is completely unfounded; our mix of pulses and whole grains certainly leaves people feeling full.”
The challenge for chefs is turning an everyday food ingredient into a main dish, whilst catering for the diverse lsraeli taste palate. Popular main courses include international favourites as well as dishes based on Israeli staple foods such as hummus and falafel.
For some Israeli chefs, a vegan wedding is a prime opportunity to celebrate the country’s rich produce, with their wide array of vegetables showcasing different colours, tastes and smells. Jerusalem artichokes, mushrooms and aubergines all help make flavoursome alternatives to familiar meat dishes.
“Our menu is seasonal and changes with the plentiful Israeli produce on offer for the time of year,” says Bonfeel. “A main vegan course from us could be wild mushroom with potatoes and cashew cream, squash filled with quinoa, curry sauce and hazelnuts or grilled aubergine with tomatoes, tahini and hyssop pita. The challenge for me is actually pleasing the ‘cynics’ who are not open to the very idea of meat-free dining.”
In the spirit of embracing nature and the outdoors, many vegan weddings are held in the open air. For many vegan couples, it is a way to step out of the familiar commercial wedding ‘template’ and celebrate without a glossy, often over-the-top production. Israel’s diverse landscape lends itself perfectly to this trend with stunning beach locations, enchanted gardens at historic sites, specially adapted vineyards and orchards all creating idyllic tableaus.
But a wedding is not just about food. An extensive industry has sprouted up over the past few years, designed to supplement the growing vegan wedding trend. Vegan hairstyling and formal wear are the tip of the iceberg. Vegan alcohol — like cruelty-free wine and beer — flower displays, wedding cakes, gifts and specialist photography are all available now too.
Specialty boutiques offer bespoke designs of wedding bouquets, lace gloves and collars, boutonnieres and other bridal accessories, all crafted from animal-free materials, to suit the bride’s chosen style, from boho or shabby-chic to vintage, woodland or glam. When it comes to celebration without cruelty, Israel is leading the way.