In September of 1967, AVS Founder H. Jay Dinshah continued his ’Round-the-World lecture tour, spreading the news worldwide about veganism. His vegan-promotion tour took him to countries in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Australasia. September’s stop was Israel.
Jay brought the concept of ahimsa — dynamic harmlessness — to a great many people, and sent back to America news of not just his travels, but food: Especially in Israel, he detailed meals with foods that would only become standard fare here much later.
He spent the first few days in a small town north of Tel Aviv, shepherded by “an ardent Hygienist in his mid-thirties,” Isaac Ben-Ury. Arriving shortly after stays in Zurich and Rome, Jay remarked on the difference in terrain, even urban terrain. “Water is precious,” he noted, “and not much is used on lawns; consequently the front yards are often sand with a few bushes.”
They visited Isaac’s Arabian friends, who had “a great fig tree, pomegranates, various other types of semi-tropical trees, and grapevines. It seemed a miniature Garden of Eden.” But he remarked of the family, “fruit and vegetables are not so much staples in their diet as adjuncts to the heavier foods.”
Still the family provided an abundant vegan spread for Jay and his friend, including, apparently, hummus with pita bread, an everyday food for Americans now, but practically unknown here at the time. Jay calls it “an entree made of ground up chickpeas, which is scooped up in some flat bread (white, home-baked, raised without yeast, slightly rubbery consistency)” and adds that they also enjoyed “cooked okra and tomato, sliced fresh tomato with plenty of salt,” and “heaps of white rice.”
He also visited Jerusalem and then on to Jericho, “the city of dates” as he says it’s termed. “From innumerable trees you can see big bunches of the delicious fruit hanging. It is a bright red or yellow when picked, and turns brown in a few days as it ripens.”
Jay had amazingly sweet watermelons in Israel, he reported, plus delicious mangoes. In another visit to the future mainstream, he met with a man specializing in organic produce. And at another stop he tried durian and jackfruit and enjoyed “some incomparably exquisite purple grapes from a veganically-grown vine that covered the side of a house.”
In terms of the fresh figs available in Israel, he noted that “we wash everything carefully, of course. Each fig is also broken open to check for a little white worm which looks a good bit like the tendrils of the fig’s insides.” He added wryly that “this is as much out of a desire to remain on a worm-free diet as out of a sense of ahimsa for the worm.”
Throughout the visit, of course, Jay was giving talks and public lectures, including one at Haifa, and another a little further north at Amirim, a vegetarian community comprising about 60 homes. There he enjoyed eating “carob pods,” calling them “a natural candy bar.” (Well…)
As for Amirim, “I found the place and the people friendly and refreshing,” he reported. “With the exception of about four who were there before it became a vegetarian village, all are vegetarian. A few are ‘vegan’ in diet, the oldest of whom told me he had eaten no animal food in some 60 years and was now 80 years old.” At one resident’s home he tried the fruit of a cactus, “which is quite tasty,” he noted, “though it’s a bit like tackling a porcupine to eat it.”
Flying out at night he said that he “enjoyed a fine dinner on the way to Iran.” All around him passengers were stuck eating “airline-food” versions of sirloin steak and “fresh” fruit cocktail with cheese, cream crackers, and coffee or tea. “I sympathized with them in their misery and felt guilty,” he confessed, “for my friends in Israel had gifted me with a real feast: 3 lovely, medium-sized mangoes!”
The fresh mangoes capped an amazing Israel trip. Jay found the trip to Tehran and the view of that city at night memorable, but remarked that “I think I will remember that dinner longer.”