At Eat.Drink.TelAviv we are excited when we have a chance to share with you some interesting personalities in the food industry here in Tel Aviv be them food writers, foodies, vegans, vegetarians, photographers and farmers.
Eat.Drink.TelAviv’s Meet.Talk.TelAviv would like you to welcome TLVegan’s creators Erez Baron, Roi Yaron, and Editor-in-chief Maya Palmon-Maoz.
TLVegan.com has become a central portal in Israel for news, articles, recipes, opinions, activism around the vegan lifestyle and movement. Co-founded by two passionate vegans and Tel-Avivians, Erez and Roi (pronounced Ro-ee) were looking to start a one-stop hub for the vegan and vegan-friendly community.
Since its creation in December of 2013 the website has seen an explosive growth in visitors having clocked in over 20000+ unique visitors a month since going online.
During our interview (in the Summer of 2014) the TLVegan group explained some of the intricacies of running and maintaining a site: from paying out of pocket to increase server speed to meet demand, find and filter new content, and create a welcoming space for all vegan-friendly people. Something you can imagine in the Middle-East is never easy, as everyone in the region as an opinion.
For those interested in the animal-product free diet and lifestyle TLVegan has an incredible array of beginner guides, blogs, recipes, restaurant reviews and opinion pieces to delve yourself into the world of veganism. They have expanded to include information on vegan-friend travel ideas outside of Israel – including restaurants and hotels that might interest Israeli/Hebrew readers.
TLVegan inspires to be the top choice for people and Israeli based media outlets for all vegan and vegan friendly information, supplying a safe and welcoming space for all opinions in the the vegan/health/animal-free community.
I met Erez Baron and Roi Yaron initially at Benedicts by chance. I was on a side project to find the best French toast in Tel Aviv. (Something we can all agree is essential.) As I stood there photographing my breakfast from every possible angle I managed to catch the attention of the diners at the table beside me. [Seeing someone stand on a chair and take a bird’s eye view of French toast will invoke some curiosity. Especially if said photographer kept saying “Oh la la, c’est belle toasts français”]
“What are you doing?” Baron asked wondering why someone would document the eggy bread. I explain my mission to find the best French toast in the city and writing reviews on eatdrinktelaviv.com. “We should talk,” Baron suggested. He was having brunch with two friends, one of which was his cofounder Roi. I head over to the table, exchange introductions and accept a well designed orange and green TLVegan business card. I think to myself, I should get business cards.
After a couple emails exchanged we were meeting up at a vegan friendly cafe to discuss TLVegan. Roi and Erez had brought along Maya, their new editor-in-chief. The rapport between the three is obvious. Erez takes the lead when answering. Roi and Maya watch on. Roi comes across as quiet and shy but given the chance you can see he has a sharp wit about him. Maya is more no-nonsense, usually the butt of the two’s jokes. But she can hold her own.
I’m impressed because Maya couldn’t be more different than the two co-founders. In fact as I joined the fray I realize that how different we all are – gay, straight, male, female, Israeli, Canadian, vegan, omnivore. Yet here we are laughing, chatting away and enjoying the cool air conditioning of this small and friendly Tel Aviv cafe, away from the unusually hot weather hitting the city that May afternoon.
No matter what our inherent differences might be there is something about food, talking about food, starting a website about food that can bring people together. Of course, I’m being naive. I can only imagine vegans do not like us carnivores. “You’d think they would be their number one enemy,” Maya interjects, “you’d be wrong.”
I was surprised by who she said is, and how serious she was.
Prof. NomNom: Why did you need to start this website for the TLV community?
Erez Baron: It all started last December (2012). Roi was a vegan for about six months and I was a new vegan, so we said let’s make a place for everyone who likes to be or wants to be vegan. Someplace to find a home – read articles, find ideology about veganism or lifestyle like where he can eat, restaurant reviews, product reviews that can assist him, articles on nutrition. So we said let’s start it, buy the domain, it’s a hobby.
Prof. NomNom: How much traffic is your “hobby” getting?
EB: We get about 20, 000 unique visitors a month. The first thing we saw when we first began was that the vegan community is very tight and everyone is supportive. When we first started it, even without any content, people were sending us articles they wrote.
Roi Yaron: They just sent us articles for free.
Maya Palmon-Maoz: We got the content from whoever and wherever.
Prof. NomNom: So this website is a Vegan Lifestyle website – you believe there was a hole in the market for this sort of community in Israel?
EB: There was a vacuum. There are many anonymous organizations who think veganism is a cause. We don’t care why you are vegan. If it’s because you are an animal lover, or for health issues, or its because your wife is vegan—
RY: We wanted to make sure you have a place to go to find out what to eat, a place to read articles.
Prof. NomNom: What can a new visitor expect to find on TLVegan.com?
EB: We have a few columns, some people have been writing for us from Day 1. One writer has been a vegan for four months. He just started when our website started–
MPM: It’s like a his diary [blog]. He’s writing his diary of the process of becoming a vegan. A New Vegan in the world.
EB: We have another [writer] who is married to another vegan, and she blogs about recipes and the married life. How it’s like to be married and vegan.
RY: We have an activist writing for us–
EB: He goes to all the protests and writes his point of view.
Prof. NomNom: Is there anything you don’t put on the website, because you cover quite a bit?
MPM: I do think now, since we’ve changed the structure, since I’ve arrived. I think that we want to be able to find a path to veganism. Even if they aren’t vegans. In my point of view there is a place for everything. But – it can get very violent.
MPM: In the comments. So we do need to somehow monitor these things.
Prof. NomNom: There seems like quite a bit to choose from. What brings at brings the most traffic?
RY: We also have a new parenting guide for vegans?
Prof. NomNom: For baby vegans?
RY: For the mothers.
EB: We have a mother who is going vegan, but her husband is not. It’s a funny story – they decided in the family that while she is a vegetarian going on vegan, she may cook meat for the child sometimes. It’s what they as a family decided. And we got responses on the website that we are an extension of the milk industry.
RY: And we are being paid by them.
EB: It’s funny because we aren’t even paid at all. Maya here is a professional, but she is volunteering.
MPM: Funny enough it’s my day job and I’m not being paid.
(We all laugh, and nod in complete understanding of each other.)
EB: She is with us because we all love it. We love the health aspect, we love animals.
MPM: I was surprised that vegans are political. Not violent but opinionated. For me it’s a way of getting closer to it to know about it more.
RY: This is one of the reasons we started the site: so people can see the other side of it. The healthy, the kind side.
EB: We discuss all sides, like where to get shoes that don’t have leather, or which vitamins to get.
Prof. NomNom: Do you ever get any content that you can’t use?
EB: We sometimes get advertisements about products that we need to filter out and figure out what to do with it. But other than that we have had a few unusable articles.
MPM: We are trying to fit the content we are getting and the content we are asking for to fit the structure we have decided we will have. As oppose to the beginning where we took content to fill the site.
RY: In the beginning we were all about quantity, but now we are focusing on quality content. That’s why we brought in Maya.
MPM: No no, that’s the opposite.
(They all laugh)
Prof. NomNom: That’s pretty comprehensive. Do you have a “beginner’s guide to being vegan?
RY: There is exactly that on the site. We have columnists who wrote their own “how-to” articles, and we also interviewed a dietician who helped create a weight-loss vegan menu. We had a lot of people on the website that gained weight once they switched (to veganism).
Prof. NomNom: I didn’t know that. I had thought it was the opposite.
RY: It is because when you start a vegan lifestyle you do a lot of replacing [of food] and go for the vegan cheeses and other vegan junk food. So you end up gaining weight.
Prof. NomNom: Seems like a challenge. Speaking of which, what do you think some of the biggest challenges running this website?
RY: Finding new content. There are a lot of recipes, and articles, but we are always looking for new ways to get people interested. That’s a daily challenge.
EB: There are many sites that touch upon one issue of it, recipe sites, animal rights sites, that sometimes has recipes, but we take the whole picture. We give solutions to families, individuals, from all walks of life.
MPM: We want to make it something a vegan can’t live without.
Prof. NomNom: How big is the vegan community here in Israel?
EB: 2% of the country is vegan. But we aren’t sure how accurate it is bc they aren’t sure if they are including vegetarians.
MPM: They say about 140 000 in the country.
(Roi googles the question on his phone)
RY: There are 6% vegetarians in the country.
Prof. NomNom: Wow. Vegans and Vegetarians side by side.
MPM: You want to hear something funny? Vegetarians are the biggest enemies of the vegans.
Prof. NomNom: Are you serious? Why?
MPM: Because they see them as “wannabe’s”
Prof. NomNom: So there is going to be this global apocalyptic war between vegans and vegetarians?
MPM: Yes, seriously.
RY: One of our biggest critics was a vegan saying we shouldn’t be hosting vegetarian writers. And we only have one.
Prof. NomNom: And one vegetarian is enough to cause a stir?
RY: We have a huge site with lots of content and for some reason a few people starting being very negative to this vegetarian.
Prof. NomNom: How do you temper that or control it?
RY: We can’t. We gave a response from the website but said as a website and as a brand, we can’t muffle what’s being said. And if we censor them on the site they’ll go to facebook or other sites.
Prof. NomNom: What are some of your future plans?
EB: Even though it’s called TLVegan, it’s not just about Tel Aviv. It’s mostly Tel Aviv, because we are here and most of the people are from the Tel Aviv area, but we review restaurants all around the country. We recently started a new section about world wide veganism. It’s all baby steps.
MPM: Not just reviewing restaurants. We want to review hotels, resorts. We are trying to find the best content for our readers.
EB: I wish some day that one of the big Israeli sites like Ynet or Walla will want TLVegan to be the vegan section for their entire audience.
Prof. NomNom: As a final note, care to recommend a Tel Aviv restaurant?
RY: Mezze. It’s vegetarian. The husband is vegan the wife is vegetarian. The vegan breakfast is very good, but their entire vegan menu is excellent.
EB: I would recommend Meshek Barzilay or Zakaiim. Both are excellent. Zakaiim is three brothers that got a lot of reviews – good or bad – but managed to create something unique.
MPM: They got to the mainstream of restaurants that even someone that is not a vegan would consider going.