Thursday, July 4, 2019

Beyond Burger: Taste Test

Beyond Meat - Kashrut
Back in Israel, I was quite interested in trying a Beyond Burger.  They are, of course, all the rage these days but they are not yet certified Kosher in Toronto.  Sounds like more of a financial negotiation with the Va'ad HaKashrut than anything else - but I have no inside information about that.  I imagine it is simply a matter of time until they are Kosher certified in Canada

In Israel, they are certified Kosher-Pareve (non-dairy) and have supervision from both Circle K and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.  So that is certainly good enough for us.

It was a bit of a challenge to find them.  Websites indicated that they were available in Rami Levi supermarkets but we had no luck finding them there.  Same for Shopersol.  They are available on-line for door to door delivery - but we wound up buying them from "Nitzat HaDuvdevan" - an organic health food store on Ostrovski Street in Ra'anana.  They cost 33 shekels for a package of 2 which is about $6.00 each in Canadian dollars.  They are sold frozen here.  In Canada, they are apparently sold in the fresh meat section in supermarkets.

As you might know, Beyond Meat has been marketing itself as a meat substitute with a taste that is close enough to meat for people to enjoy a completely plant based burger but not feel that they are missing out.  Ingredients include pea protein, canola and coconut oils and a variety of other chemicals.  In terms of nutritional content, a burger weighs 113 grams.  One burger has 300 calories, 20 grams of protein, 11 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fibre, 20 grams of fat (8 saturated) and 360 grams of sodium.  No sugar.

Beyond Burgers on the grill
So I gather that the fat, sodium and protein contents might be comparable to a 1/4 pound meat burger.  The fibre content would be higher in the Beyond Burger.  The fat content would be higher than some burgers but that might depend on the meat.

The company recommends thawing the burgers before cooking them.  So we did that, mostly.  It then recommends cooking them on a grill or in a pan for about 3 minutes per side.  Since they were not fully thawed, I probably cooked them for about 5 minutes per side on the barbecue.

They do actually look quite a bit like meat hamburgers.  I had heard that they "bleed" on the grill and get very juicy like meat burgers.  I can't say I really saw this when I cooked them but they were reasonably juicy.

But our samplers were impressed.  The verdict was that they were quite close to the taste and texture of a meat burger.  They were reasonably tasty, easy to prepare, Kosher-parve (which means that they can be eaten with anything - depending on how you cook them).  Two tasters were duly impressed and were definitely prepared to try them again.  Admittedly, this was a small sample size.

One member of our group, who does not eat red meat, did not want to try them since they seemed too much like a real burger.  It is certainly fair to recognize that vegetarians who are not looking to replicate a "meat experience" might not be interested in something that is designed to taste close to meat.

Personally, I am not a vegetarian though I try to limit the amount of red meat that I eat, primarily for health reasons.  Every now and then (or sometimes more often), I enjoy a nice steak or a good burger but I do think about it a lot and sometimes wonder whether I should try a vegetarian diet (from the ethical side of things, rather than purely from the health side).

So from a health point of view, I am not sure that these Beyond  Burgers are that much healthier than eating red meat.  They have some fibre but the fat content is quite high as is the saturated fat content.  The sodium level is high but not obscene.  I would have felt a lot better about eating these regularly if the fat content was about half, the saturated fat content about one-third and the sodium content lower.

From a nutritional view point, it might be better to have some fish, some chicken or  a soy based main course.

From an ethical point of view, it is certainly nice to have the option of eating a burger that provides an enjoyable culinary experience while knowing that "no innocent animals were harmed in the process..."

Cooked Beyond Burger
I would be interested in trying some other types of these new veggie burgers from competitors - such as  the Impossible Burger.  There are several different companies, worldwide, who continue to develop all kinds of alternative burgers.  I would think that some of them will soon find a way to reduce the fat and sodium content and perhaps even increase the fibre.

But overall - here is the cooked product.  The verdict was positive and we are willing to try them some more.  At $6 each, they are probably not that much more expensive than buying ready made frozen burgers from our local butcher.  I hope that they will soon be certified Kosher in Canada from my friends and family there.  I am likely to include them as a viable dinner option on either side of the ocean. 







Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Israeli Election Update - April 9 2019 Elections

Hi everyone.  It has been a while.  I have been quite occupied with a range of other pursuits - including my professional career.  So I have neglected my Israeli-oriented blogging.  But with only one week to go until Israeli elections, I thought an election blog was well overdue.  I was reminded of this recently by a couple of friends and I thought I might have something to add.

In 2013, I put together a detailed preview.  I have referenced that here: 2013 Israeli Election Preview.
So I won't reinvent the wheel.  I would also suggest that you could have a look at this presentation - put together by someone close to me...

But things have changed quite a bit this time around.  There are several new political parties.  Some parties have vanished and others are teetering on the edge of oblivion.  It should be quite an interesting election.

Most polls and surveys seem to be dividing the Israeli electorate into "Right Wing" and "Left Wing" blocs.  The labels are probably somewhat misleading since the parties' positions on particular issues are not always readily discernible.  However, the main reason for the classifications is that Israeli politics is always about coalition building.  In order to form a government, one of the parties will need to string together a coalition of at least 61 seats in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament).  This would give the government a voting majority and allow it to pass legislation.  So if the parties on the "right" are able to cobble together at least 61 seats, they will likely form the government even if the largest party in the coalition is not the party with the most overall votes.  I will explain that as we go along.  I thought I would first look at the main parties, current polling and some of the parties' political positions.

The Likud

The only "major" right wing party now according to most polls and predictions is the Likud, the party led by the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Over the past few months, polls have varied with the Likud winning somewhere between 26 and 32 seats.  Likud currently has 30 seats in the Knesset which suggests that the party is not likely to gain or lose too many supporters.  Since the last Israeli elections, Prime Minister Netanyahu has led a solidly right of centre government in a coalition with ultra-religious parties (13 seats), right wing nationalist parties (13 seats) and a centre-right party (10).  Over the 9 years of his current mandate, in which Netanyahu has won three elections, his party's policies have varied somewhat depending on the coalition partners.  Between 2013 and 2015, the government veered towards the centre as a result of the influence of the Yesh Atid party, led by Yair Lapid.  However, since 2015, the Netanyahu government has undone any centrist leaning policies that were implemented during those years and has moved the government to the right in most areas including social legislation, increased support for religious institutions, supreme court reform and a host of other areas.  By any objective measure, it is clearly the most right wing government in Israel's history.  Some Israelis are obviously quite happy about that while others are frustrated and disappointed.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has also been wrestling with a range of personal scandals, which have resulted in the Attorney General recommending charges in three different cases.  All of these charges are subject to preliminary hearings before proceeding, which have yet to take place.  Other stories continue to emerge about matters for which Netanyahu has not yet been charged.  Although some might have thought that these wide ranging allegations of corruption would have affected Netanyahu in the polls, that does not appear to be the case.  For one thing, none of the charges have actually gone forward and there are many Israelis who say that he should be treated as innocent unless and until he is found guilty of something.  It is unclear what might happen to the charges after the election, especially if Netanyahu wins and forms the government.  He may well escape from any sanctions but that remains to be seen.

Blue and White Party

The big change  for this election is the addition of the Blue and White party, a merger between Yair Lapid's "Yesh Atid" and Benny Ganz's new party "Hosen."  Unlike the characterization in some of the polls and attacks by Netanyahu, this is not a "left wing" party.  Its membership includes former army generals and high ranking offices with impressive military credentials.  The party has indicated that it is willing to renew diplomatic efforts with Palestinians to try and reach some type of peace agreement.  At the same time, it is as willing as the Likud to take strong military action in Gaza or anywhere else to defend Israel against military and terrorist threats.

Economically, the party is probably not that different from Likud in its capitalist outlook although it has proposed some economic policies that may align more with the centre or centre left.  It has also stated a willingness to look at issues of gender equality, religious pluralism, education reform, budget allocation for religious institutions and other domestic issues.  For many Israeli voters, who do not wish to see Netanyahu continue on as Prime Minister, the Blue and White party seems to be the only option and it is currently running neck and neck with the Likud at anywhere from 28 to 32 seats in recent polls.

That being said, even if Blue and White were to capture 30 or 32 seats, it might have a very difficult time piecing together a coalition of 61.  In fact, that might even be impossible, depending on the exact numbers for each of the parties.

One possibility is that Blue and White could win a plurality and offer to run a national coalition government with Likud.  However, it seems unlikely that Likud would agree, especially if Netanyahu continues to lead the party.


Smaller Right Wing Parties

There are four smaller right wing parties running in this election, each with slightly different constituencies and each vying to demonstrate that it is the true right wing alternative to the Likud party.

Yisrael Beitenu, under the leadership of Avigdor Lieberman is currently polling at around 4-5 seats and flirting with falling below the cut off point (3.25%).  Parties that get less than the minimum amount of popular vote do not make it into the Knesset.  Lieberman's party has been in and out of the government's ruling coalition over the years.  He represents a nationalist but not religious constituency, many of whom are of Russian origin.  The party has taken some right wing positions on territorial issues but has, in the past, suggested that it would be willing to engage in land swaps as way of reaching a deal with the Palestinians.  Lieberman has often been at odds with Netanyahu.  There could be a chance that if Yisrael Beitenu were to hold the balance of power and it were to get the right offer, it would join Blue and White as part of a government.  The party would however, in general, be a more natural partner for the Likud party.

New Right

Earlier this year, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked left "Habayit Hayehudi" ("The Jewish Home") and formed a new party called "The New Right."  In doing so, they seem to have taken about half of their support from the former party.  One might say that they left the Home and took half of the contents....

So the New Right is polling at between 4 and 7 seats.  The remaining members cobbled together another new coalition, now called the United Right which is also polling at 4 to 7 seats.  Neither of these parties seem likely to join any party other than Likud.  Both are committed to opposing any land concessions to the Palestinians and to continuing the status quo or annexing all of the disputed territories.  This looks to be anywhere from 8 to 14 seats that will be "low hanging fruit" for the Likud in any coalition talks.

The other small right wing party is the Zehut (Identity) party of Moshe Feiglin.  This self-described ultra-nationalist, libertarian party has campaigned on a platform of cannabis legalization, privatization of just about everything, annexation of all of the disputed territories and an increased separation between Synagogue and State.  Zehut also favours easing up on Israeli gun control laws and allowing for non-religious civil marriage in Israel, possibly even same sex marriage.  Zehut has apparently picked up quite a bit of support among young voters and is polling at between 4 and 5 seats, with some pundits predicting that the party may get as many as 7-10 seats.  Once again, the party is a more likely partner of the Likud but might be willing to negotiate with the Blue and White party if they could find some common ground.  The right amount of shared weed might make that more of a possibility, especially if both parties can agree on legalizing cannabis.

Some have joked around that Feiglin's supporters might be too stoned to make it to the polls - but the Zehut party seems poised to surprise the electorate and the pundits with a sizable showing.


The Left

According to most polls, the Labour party seems likely to suffer its worst defeat ever.  It is polling at between 8 and 10 seats.  It has played a very small role in public election discourse.  It has suffered from infighting including a disastrous public break up with Tsipi Livni, a former coalition partner.  Old style Labour economic policies do not seem to be appealing to most of the Israeli electorate.  The party recognized this by choosing Avi Gabai, more of a centrist, to lead the party.  However, the Labour campaign, by most accounts, has been a disaster.  Perhaps the numbers will change on election day but that seems unlikely.  A reasonably strong showing by Labour could still be helpful for the Blue and White party since the Blue and White party is the only possible coalition partner for Labour.  If Blue and White could win 32-35 seats and Labour could win 10-12, there might be a chance that Blue and White could form the government, with a prominent role for the Labour party.  If Labour only wins 7 or 8 seats, the party will likely spend the next four years in the political wilderness (i.e. the desert in Israel...)

Further along the spectrum is the Meretz party - a socially activist, proudly left wing party.  Meretz seems to be polling at consistent 4-6 seat numbers.  It could obtain some concessions from Blue and White and form part of the government if the option were available but that would really depend on all of the other numbers.  Like its counterparts on the right, Meretz really only has one available option to be part of the government.  Of course for Meretz that is the Blue and White party rather than the Likud.

The Ultra Religious

The two ultra-religious parties, Shas and UTJ (United Torah Judaism) are polling at a total of 12 to 14 seats.  They have played a key role in the current government and have held various cabinet positions.  The ultra-religious parties extracted significant concessions from Netanyahu and the Likud during the last round of coalition building negotiations.  They obtained massive funding for their Yeshivot (religious educational institutions) and for the ultra-religious infrastructure in Israel. They also succeeded in passing new laws that would keep more retail places closed on Shabbat.  Given what they have achieved with Netanyahu at the helm, it is unlikely that they would join a Blue and White coalition.  At the same time, historically, the ultra-religious parties have shown a willingness to join more centrist parties if they can obtain significant concessions.  If the Blue and White party were to make these far-reaching concessions, that would alienate many of their voters.  I find it hard to see these parties joining Blue and White.

The Arab Parties

There are two Arab parties - Hadash Tal (polling at approximately 6-9 seats) and Ra'am Balad (polling at between 3 and 5 seats).  If Ra'am Balad were to get 3, it would not make it into the Knesset.  So the likely numbers are anywhere from 6 to 14, a wide spread.  The Arab parties are not likely to join either governing group but could bolster a Blue and White coalition by voting with it - or agreeing not to vote against it.

Adding up everything, current polls are putting the right wing parties at anywhere from 62 to 68 seats and the other parties at 52 to 56.

If there is to be a change in government in Israel, the poll numbers would need to change significantly on election day.  That could happen since election polls around the world seem to have become less and less dependable.

As well, some of the "right wing" parties could be enticed into a coalition with Blue and White with the right concessions.

In my view, the Blue and White Party would need at least 35-36 seats to have a chance at forming the government, with the Likud party winning 28 or less.  If the Likud party has 30 seats or more and the Blue and White party has less than 35, the Likud will almost certainly form the government once again and Benjamin Netanyahu will continue as Israel's Prime Minister....for now.

I am looking forward to arriving in Israel just in time to vote and then sitting in front of the TV watching results all night (and maybe for several days afterwards).  That being said, I'll simply add that I am not optimistic that Israel will have a competent, stable or forward-looking government in power over the coming years.  Then again, looking around at what is taking place in so many countries around the world, is this a great surprise?

If you are an Israeli citizen and eligible to vote - make sure to go and exercise your right.  B'hatzlachah to all the candidates and to all of those voters hoping that their party will win.