Vegan in the military: Switzerland vs. Israel
In January, Switzerland’s military service discharged a young man after his request for vegan food and synthetic leather boots. The Swiss military announced the 19 year-old man was incapable and unfit for military service because he will not wear leather combat boots. The young man, Antoni Da Campo, from the canton of Valais, has appealed the decision. Despite high command’s insistence that they cannot “cater” to vegan military diets, they provide gluten free meals and make allowances for religious dietary needs (halal or kosher meals are provided).
Before you decide this guy thinks he’s a special snowflake who deserves white-glove treatment, it’s important to note that Switzerland is one of a handful of countries that still has mandatory military service (Colombia and Israel are two others I can think of off the top of my head).
In the United States and Canada, its easier for vegans to choose against military service if doing so would require eating nonvegan food and wearing leather. Vegan food options seem fairly easy to obtain in Canada and the US, but leather boots seem to be required, so the only work-around for most vegan military service-people would be second-hand boots (if anyone else has further information on this, please leave a comment!).
Nevertheless, in countries with mandatory military service, you don’t volunteer for service. And the government imposes fines if you are deemed unfit. It’s an experience that at all males (and in Israel, both males and females) go through. In this kind of environment, it seems like it would improve morale if the government were to make allowances for dietary and lifestyle restrictions. And at least one country has figured that out.
Israel makes concessions for vegan military personnel
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has decided to provide vegan gear and meals for vegans serving in the Israeli army. The number of vegans in Israel has been growing at an unprecedented rate over the past few years – far more quickly than in the rest of the world.
5% of Israelis are currently vegan and the number continues to grow steadily every year. Israel’s Prime Minister supports meatless mondays and has expressed concerns over meat consumption to reporters. With numbers like these, it makes sense that the Israeli army has chosen to accommodate vegan military personnel.
I confess finding it a bit odd that a force designed exclusively for home defence (the Swiss military does not participate in any multinational conflicts) would find vegan meals and clothing a crucial sticking point. Since this soldier was offering to pay for identical vegan leather boots, it seems rather petty. Nothing against the swiss army, but they aren’t planning any treks through deep jungle anytime soon, so I fail to see how genuine leather is a critical aspect of their nation’s defence.
On the other hand, members of the Israeli Defense Force face conflict situations with some frequency. If providing vegan boots and meals is not too big a hurdle for them, I don’t see how it would be too much of a challenge for any other standing army.
Why vegans should care
Even if you’re a pacifist, I think it’s important to support the inclusion of all groups in your nation’s self defence, as far as is practical. As vegans become a larger portion of the general population, it’s important they be able to serve without sacrificing their convictions. Israel has taken an important step here, and I hope other nations follow suit. Having a military that respects and values all the lives on this planet would be a great step forward.
If you are vegan and have served in the military, I’d love to hear about your experience. How hard was it? What were the greatest challenges? If you aren’t vegan, do you think that the military should offer a variety of food options?