Palestinian Animal League – Promoting Veganism in Palestine: Going Back to Roots
The concept of veganism is relatively unpopular in the occupied Palestinian Territories and vegan food is most known as the “Christian fasting food”. However, the Palestinian cuisine has been mainly vegetarian with a large part of it vegan. It was just not labeled as such. The consumption of meat is low and it is believed that the increase in meat consumption is linked to the impact of the Ottoman ruling, as meat was perceived as an elite food. This is in addition to the impact of disconnecting people from their land due to the prolonged Israeli occupation, where Palestinians started to rely on the purchased food rather than the food they grow themselves. It is also believed that the consumption of canned meat was only introduced through aid food after Nakba, the displacement of hundred thousands of Palestinians who became refugees and relied on the aid provided by the United Nations. Given that Palestine is a relatively poor country, meat consumption nowadays is necessarily connected to the purchasing power rather than it being a conscious choice. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the current monthly meat and poultry consumption per capita is 3.7 kilograms. The Ministry of Agriculture statistics show that 3,200,000 chickens are consumed monthly in the Palestinian Territories. PCBS statistics also stated that dairy and eggs consumption ranks the fourth of most consumed food with 2.3 kilograms per capita per month. The Union of Palestinian Farmers announced in August 2017 that the oPT have 37,000 of cows, 24,000 which are in the West Bank and that 204 million liters of cow milk are being consumed in the oPT per year.
Most Palestinians consider meat, especially red meat, as a luxurious food. It is mandatory to serve meat if inviting people to your house or at a restaurant. Serving meat is perceived as a way of showing respect to the invited people. In weddings, especially in the southern part of the West Bank, serving lamb and beef in huge amounts is a must. The smallest wedding would cost at least 10 lambs. In the same context, sacrificing animals, mainly lambs and cows, is still a religious ritual performed during the Al Adha Feast once a year, where many Muslim families slaughter an animal or more as a sacrifice to God. Many slaughters are being executed in public, in the streets or in the backyards of the family houses, and most commonly in rural areas. In the same context, it is unusual to find vegan options as main courses in the menus of restaurants in the oPT, and it is uncommon to have the vegan options of salads and sweets labeled as vegan. Briefly, the culture and religion in the oPT combined with the negative impact of the Israeli occupation on the lives of people and animals alike, give veganism low priority compared to other issues or causes. However, highlighting the environmental damage, impact on health, and helping the poor in a better way, would help promoting veganism in the oPT and the Arab World as a noble and priority cause.
PAL has initiated the promotion of veganism within the Palestinian context through Youth for Change program and through its Facebook page. In the same context, PAL recently announced a one month vegan challenge on its Facebook page, where around 60 youth participated and shared their experiences. At least 5 people decided to continue on their plant-based diet while others decided to stick to a vegetarian diet. During the one month challenge, PAL has regular posts promoting vegan recipes and providing nutrition tips to get enough protein and the other needed nutrients, the content that seemed to be completely new to most people. It has been observed that PAL’s Facebook page has received a significant attention since the challenge, and witnessed an increase in the number of followers and as well as in the engagement rate, even from people who are followers of the page. In August 2018, and a few days before the Sacrifice (Al Adha) Feast, PAL published an article introducing alternatives to sacrificing animals in order to save the environment, be kinder to animals, and help the poor in a better way, affirming that meat industry worldwide is doing harm to the poor, whom a part of the sacrificed animals is supposed to feed. The article also received a substantial attention and opened the floor for discussing the idea. In this regard, PAL is developing a set of ideas to promote veganism within the Palestinian society including strong and well-developed content on the Social Media, educational sessions for young people, approaching restaurants and food shops to start labeling vegan options, as well as having a vegan booth in the Friday market in Ramallah that serves one recipe of a main course and one recipe of sweets each Friday.
The Palestinian Animal League (PAL) has been observing the food habits in Palestine, and the impact of these habits on animal protection movement in the country. Promoting veganism helps PAL’s work as an intersectional organization calling for justice for all and fighting against all forms of oppression especially in an occupied country. Through addressing veganism, the light will be shed on the fact that the oppressed should not oppress other beings just because they are weaker than her/him, and killing or exploiting other beings for humans to make food and clothes etc is a form of oppression and it should be stopped. This project will help refuting the claim that we as Palestinians should focus on more important issues as stolen land and human rights violations first and that other issues comes in second priority. The project will in the other hand assert that looking after the weaker, starting from animals, will build a compassion culture that will consequently lead to a more cooperative compassionate and strong society, which will be able to defend the land and the humans eventually.
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