Students at EMIS are doers, challengers to societal norms, and generally unconventional. It is not surprising that our dietary habits are different from the rest of the global community’s. Out of our community of 83 students, 10 consider themselves Vegan, and 12 are Vegetarian. It is important to note that these numbers are rising constantly, for reasons that contain, but are not limited to: ethics, health, and an increasing trend among the student body within the Eastern Mediterranean International School. The number of Vegetarians and Vegans in Israel has constantly been on the rise, with 8.5% of the population considering themselves as either Vegan or Vegetarian, according to the Ministry of Health, living off of a “vegetarian-based” diet. The number in Israel is higher than many other places in the world, with Europe at an average of 6%, and 3.2% in the United States (raw-food-health.net).
The fact that the number of Vegans and Vegetarians at EMIS is so high is truly a problem. Such a problem that it has reached the extent of the common inability to share food with others in our community. Although some may argue that being Vegan or Vegetarian is a personal decision, and has no impact on what others think and feel; I disagree. And the reason is that the amount of people who have changed their eating “beliefs.” 9 of these people arrived at EMIS as meat eating, and changed to Vegan or Vegetarian or Vegetarians who became Vegan since their time at our international boarding school. This dramatic change in habits shows that people feel pressured to change what they eat as a result of others in our community.
I see this as a problem for a few reasons. First of all, I generally am readily happy to share with others, especially when it comes to food. However, with the divide amongst eating beliefs in our community, this ability to share has left me with quite a bit of food left in my hands than otherwise. A few days ago, my Vegan friend asked if I had any food to give her. I went through my apparently limited variety of snacks, in the attempt to find something to give her:
Corn flakes (with honey): nope
Milk so she can eat her own cereal: nope, needs to be soy milk
Milk chocolate: nope
This left me with a bad feeling. Yes, truly I felt bad because I was unable to share my food with my friend!! Reflecting on it, I am reminded of something I learned about the nature of eating and socializing. It is believed that most special events contain some type of food, whether it is a holiday, a joyous event such as a wedding, reconciliation with friends, or the desire to have a fun night out. This is because food is a basic human need. It is something we all share in common, no matter our various socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Conversing over a meal gives the opportunity to realize that, despite our differences, we are all humans—who love to eat. Additionally, it also shows a sign of good hospitality. It is a kind act to share food with a guest, which even dates back to biblical times, according to (blog.socialtables.com). Often we can feel uncomfortable in a new place with new people, but once we share a meal, we feel much more relaxed and welcomed into the host’s home. With such a high number of Vegans and Vegetarians at EMIS, we are too often denied the mutual feeling of eating the same food together. Statements are often thrown around like “no, I can’t pass that to you because I am never touching meat” and so forth. Thus, when living at a boarding school and desiring to share a nice time together, bonding over food, we are often hindered by the fact that many of our friends refuse to eat many things that we enjoy eating, whether it be meat, milk or eggs.
And this happens time and time again. For example, yesterday we had a fun gathering to commemorate one of our friend’s 18th birthday. We brought a variety of different snacks to munch on during the celebration. We had three bags of buttered popcorn. We were all about to dig in when the timeless question, “Is it Vegan?” surfaced, and with some debate, it was decided that the popcorn was NOT Vegan because it contained butter. So, as a result, a myriad of people were denied celebrating the joyous event with food, left watching the non-Vegans gulp down copious amounts of popcorn. The reason Vegans don’t eat butter is because it contains milk from cows, that were potentially mistreated. But, by so many people “unable” and unwilling to eat the popcorn at the celebration, there suddenly became a slightly uncomfortable situation. I know that individually, not all of Vegans actually care about or focus on someone who may be eating something they would not eat, but I can’t control that I simply do not feel very comfortable enjoying something that they “would not touch.”
The next time you ask “does it contain milk or eggs?” consider how it makes others feel. Some may not mind. Some may be happy that you won’t eat their food because they have more for themselves. Or some may feel sad that they can’t converse over food with you, enjoying one of the most basic human pleasures, because you “can’t” eat it. Maybe the answer is that the whole world becomes Vegan. That way, we will all be equal, we will all share a common belief and lifestyle. But, for now, it is a problem that we are denied simple pleasures, unable to eat many tasty foods with our friends who believe in a different lifestyle, and think that eating animal products is a moral depravity.
Written by Hannah Cook
Edited by Tom Sagiv