In the wake of the devastating events of the October 7th terrorist attack, when Israel awoke to the dawn of a major conflict, a restaurant kitchen in the heart of Tel Aviv became one of many immediately turned into a command center dedicated to the task of churning out hundreds of meals a day. These meals are sustaining the 400,000 soldiers, reservists, and support personnel who have been urgently mobilized to the front lines, as well as the half-million Israeli families forced to evacuate their homes.
Omer Tal, head chef and culinary consultant for Redefine Meat, Ltd. supported this mountainous task by orchestrating an initiative dedicated to serving the vegan/flexitarian soldiers. Chef Tal brought together a collaborative of Israeli foodTech startups, vegan food producers, and 100 volunteers and private chefs.
“Even while in a state of shock, trying to contain the horrific events that took place, it was clear to me that we would not be returning to any form of routine soon,” says Tal. “I felt a deep-seated need to contribute in a meaningful way.” The morning after the attack, Tal called Dor Datner, owner of 12 eateries in Tel Aviv, who—along with his partner, Gilad Harpaz—not only offered their central kitchen but took an active role in kickstarting the project.
1,000 Meals a Day
A Facebook post by Tal drew instant and overwhelming responses from eager volunteers and within 12 hours the kitchen on Tel Giborim Street (which coincidentally means “Hero’s Hill” in Hebrew) was abuzz with culinary activity. The facility had immediately been rigorously sanitized to strict vegan and kosher standards with approval from the Tel Aviv rabbinate.
Several foodTech startups provided their plant-based innovations as raw materials. Redefine Meat donated an impressive three tons of plant-sourced meat alternative materials, including beef and lamb analogs to this and other similar projects. Beef alternatives were also provided by the vegan food producers Green Butcher and More Foods. YoEgg! Foods contributed its plant-based poached eggs, while Creative Pea offered its pea-based chicken and fish solutions. Dairy alternatives, such as vegan cheeses, were contributed by the vegan food companies Plenty 4u, Mama Q, and Utopia. E.y.m. Israeli Tofu donated high-quality tofu for various dishes. Including plant-based schnitzels.
Throughout the week, the campaign produced nearly 6,000 meals featuring a diverse selection of nutritious, protein-rich dishes. On the menu were vegan creations of meatball and spaghetti bolognaise, juicy plant-chicken skewers, savory faux fish patties, poached egg analogs in tomato sauce, non-dairy cheese pastries, and similar products. As an added treat, Ornat JO-MO Chocolate and Panda Confections generously contributed dairy-free and sugar-free chocolates and Roy Chocolate provided pralines. The rich menu was devised by private chef Noam Carmon, owner of a renowned boutique catering company in Israel.
A Glimmer of Light
“We created meal kits each consisting of 20 portions,” explains Lilach Edman, a private vegan chef known for her pasta artistry. “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.” Edman managed the volunteers and kitchen to create vegan meals.
“I reached out to the army bases via the group Vegan Friendly to find out how many vegan or vegetarian soldiers are in each,” adds Liran Cohen, a private vegan chef. The Israeli vegan organization arranges vegan meals for soldiers with dietary restrictions.
“There were some complex logistics in getting the kits to all the bases and evacuated families,” adds 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.”
Following an intense week, the kitchen has closed but the campaign continues to run in full force through a number of smaller private kitchens and restaurants. “We will continue providing raw materials for 50 meals a day for our soldiers,” adds Tal. “The other companies and volunteers have pledged to continue their part until the end of the war. Moreover, some of the kits are also being earmarked for evacuated families and the 5,000 injured survivors in hospitals.”
“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,” continues Tal. “Among the volunteers that turned up were those that 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.”
Heroes in the Kitchen Preparing Vegan Meals for Heroes at the Frontlines
Picture Heroes in the kitchen