Israeli vegan tries to convert his meat-loving compatriots

Israeli animal rights advocate Chen Cohen has taken on a formidable mission — trying to promote a vegan lifestyle among his compatriots, who rank seventh in the world in consumption of meat.

In its most recent survey of beef and veal consumption, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said the average Israeli consumed 20.2 kilograms (44.5 pounds) of beef in 2015, trailing only Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, the U.S., Brazil and Australia per capita.

Chen Cohen will be at U.C. Berkeley at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17 in Boalt 130, with Bears for Israel.


Chen Cohen photo/revital topiol photography

But Cohen said he still believes Israel can be a leader in the vegan movement.


“We have so many different diets, so we’re used to people having specific preferences that stem from their particular values,” Cohen said. “There’s the kosher thing, the glatt kosher thing — and now there’s the vegan thing.”

He also wants to spread the word around the U.S., and will be visiting Northern California next week to promote Israel’s role in the international animal rights movement. The eight-day speaking tour, which also includes stops in Southern California and Colorado, is sponsored by Los Angeles-based StandWithUs, a pro-Israel education and advocacy nonprofit.

While in the Bay Area, Cohen will make appearances Wednesday, Nov. 16 at U.C. Davis; Thursday, Nov. 17 at San Francisco’s Jewish Community High School of the Bay and U.C. Berkeley, and Nov. 18 at Kehillah High School in Palo Alto and  Chabad at Stanford.

Cohen, 31, helped organize this year’s Animal Rights National Conference in Washington, D.C. Speaking alongside fellow Israeli vegans Ronen Bar and Omri Paz, he discussed the growing animal rights movement in Israel — that he says now includes vegan pizza at Domino’s and vegan muffins at local bakeries.

Cohen said in a telephone interview that he has been passionate about social justice throughout his life, but only got interested in animal rights in 2011 when one of his best friends “went veg.”

“He was the BBQ guy — the one who was always at the grill. When he became vegan, I had to look into it,” Cohen said. “After talking to him, it really moved me. He was speaking the truth. I decided I couldn’t continue to consume food that incorporates such cruelty.”

Cohen said he quit his job as a software engineer last November to commit himself full-time to the cause of animal rights. He moved to Washington to organize the national conference this past July, and then returned to Israel to co-manage a vegan day care with his girlfriend.

On his tour next week, Cohen said he plans to spread a message about ethics and compassion.

“My goal is to help people make compassionate choices in their lifestyles, and that means to have them see that some of our habits are not in line with our values,” he said. “I’m not here to convert or persuade, just to help be an example for how people can live the compassion in their hearts.”

Hannah Rubin

Hannah Rubin is a writer at J. She can be reached at [email protected].