When Baltimore Jewish Times managing editor Marc Shapiro suggested we go on a kosher food crawl for a magazine cover story, my vegan diet immediately became a topic of conversation.
As most kosher establishments are either certified as kosher for meat or dairy, does that mean a vegan, someone who doesn’t consume any animal products, will have fewer options?
The short answer? Yes. However, at each of the five establishments the JT dined in, there were several vegan-friendly options, whether it was protein-rich dishes with tofu and falafel or starchy sides likes French fries. While there were not nearly as many options for a vegan as for an omnivore or even a vegetarian, restaurants in general are making moves towards being more vegan-friendly.
And outside of the restaurant world, kosher veganism is not only easy to maintain, but depending on who you ask, is the ultimate goal of abiding by kashrut laws.
“That’s no coincidence,” said Jeffrey Cohan, the executive director of Jewish Veg, a national organization committed to encouraging Jews to transition to veganism as an expression of the Jewish values of compassion for animals, concern for health and care for the environment.
“The laws of kashrut were designed to restrict and limit our consumption of animal products,” he said. “Obviously, eliminating that consumption altogether is the ultimate objective of kashrut.”
Despite the simplicity of maintaining a plant-based diet, Cohan feels veganism is largely underrated in the Jewish community.
“Plant-based diets are generally not taught in rabbinic seminaries, not taught in Sunday schools and not taught in synagogues,” said Cohan, who’s been a vegan for seven years. “That’s why Jewish Veg exists. We want to fill the huge void in Jewish communal discourse.”
Baltimorean kosher vegan Elana Rubin, an incoming sophomore at Johns Hopkins University, remembers one of her day school teachers making Cohan’s very point.
“I remember we read over the rabbinical text about how we should be kosher,” she recalled. “What my teacher actually said was that the rabbi’s main goal for us was to be vegetarian. We considered that to be the least cruel way of dealing with other animals.”
For Rubin, who has kept kosher with her family for most of her life, the transition to vegetarianism at a very young age, and then to veganism later were not so difficult.
“The laws of kashrut were designed to restrict and limit our consumption of animal products. Obviously, eliminating that consumption altogether is the ultimate objective of kashrut.” — Jeffrey Cohan, executive director of Jewish Veg
“I have always loved animals and that is the reason I went vegetarian in the first place at 9 years old,” said Rubin. “I think having the background of keeping kosher made it easier for me. I was always raised with the idea that there were foods that were off-limits.”
Jewish Veg does not have a brick-and-mortar headquarters, but it has employees up and down the East Coast. They try to spread the word of veganism through partnerships with Hillel International, JCCs, synagogues, Moishe House and Repair the World.
“The real strength in our organization is our partnerships with other Jewish organizations, especially to those with access to the young adult demographic,” Cohan said. “We’re about have our third vegan Birthright trip. Basically, we go anywhere there’s a minyan.”