Food fight! Meet the woman who feeds the Israeli army

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Food fight! Meet the woman who feeds the Israeli army

There’s no marching on empty stomachs for Israeli soldiers finds Louisa Walters, as she speaks to the IDF’s chief nutritionist ahead of stepping down from the role.

Louisa Walters is a features writer

Lieutenant Colonel Yafit Adri has led a glittering 25 years of military service with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), including heading up
the army’s nutrition and culinary development.

How did you end up in charge of food for the IDF?

I was deputy commander of a construction unit when a friend told me he had been offered a position as head of the IDF nutrition department, but that he didn’t want it. I felt strongly that this was my calling!

I applied and was initially rejected on the basis that I had no culinary background.

During the interview, I explained I see every soldier as my own child and that it is very important to me to ensure they have nutritious and delicious food available to them.

At the end of the interview, I was told I could start within a week. I was thrilled and, on my way home, I was already making plans.

The emphasis today is on eating healthier food

How has the IDF food offering changed over the years?

I have never had a problem with military food, but the demands of the youth 25 years ago were very different from the demands today. In ‘my day’ we ate to reach 70; today, the food served to the soldiers is significantly healthier and much better looking!

There’s more emphasis on food that is quick to eat and less processed.

The food stations are attractive and tailored to the needs and tastes of the soldiers.

In the past, there was almost nothing available for vegans, coeliacs, food allergy sufferers and the strictly-Orthodox; today, all dietary requirements are catered for.

All dietary requirements are catered for in the IDF

How have you enabled change?

Many of the changes were created as a result of the change in Israeli eating habits, because we are interested in making sure the soldiers enjoy their meals. I always tell the kitchen staff that every day they have a ‘date’ with the diners, and they should look attractive so the diners will want to come to the next ‘date’ (meal).  

What nutritional expertise is there within the army?

Lieutenant Colonel Yafit Adri

We work in collaboration with the chief nutritionist, who guides us as to the health and nutritional value of what we are producing, and with combat fitness instructors to encourage a sensible diet.

Each type of unit has a different style of menu, adapted to the activities of the soldiers within it.

How much does the outside world influence what soldiers eat?

The rich diversity of food in Israel and the wide variety of restaurants here directly influence the soldiers’ tastes and, in turn, what we feed them. The culinary world in general has changed hugely in recent years. There is a deluge of cooking on TV and all across social media – endless recipes and pictures of innovative and varied food. This has had an enormous impact on what the soldiers want to eat. 

What’s on the menu?

The day starts with a variety of cheeses, vegetables, spreads (tahini, jam, chocolate, sesame), hot drinks, bread, dairy delicacies, soya delicacies, eggs and hot drinks. Lunch consists of a hot soup in the winter, between six and eight salads, two types of carbohydrates, cooked vegetables, a meat dish, a vegan dish, bread, fruit and a cold drink. Dinner is light – cheeses, vegetables, a variety of spreads, cold drinks and bread. A couple of times a week there are chef stands serving hamburgers, shawarma and more.
All kitchens in the army are kosher.

What happens on Shabbat and festivals?

Table service is often used for Shabbat

These meals are richer, more varied and more beautifully served – often with table service.

How has Covid-19 affected food operations in the IDF?

In some units, soldiers eat in limited numbers at specific times. If there are too many to be fed safely in this way, then the food is served in other locations. 

How do you feel about hanging up your apron?  

Every day I fall in love with the job all over again and want to do so many more things, but it’s time for a younger team to move in.

It’s with great pride that I am handing over the most amazing and delicious job there is in the IDF. 

What do the soldiers say?

“Sometimes the options are very basic and repetitive and sometimes not – it all depends on the base in terms of supply and the cooks’ willingness to make an effort! The restriction of only one piece of meat or chicken per person can be annoying but they are really considerate of allergies and preferences such as vegetarianism. On some occasions, if we are not on active training, we can cook for ourselves and we enjoy making barbecues.” Lior

“Friday night dinners are great with a lot of ruach, good spirits and singing. My most memorable army meal was during chanukah 2019 where I was in a base in the Galilee where they made a huge, fancy dinner with hamburgers, tortillas, schnitzel in a roll, falafels, popcorn, waffles and donuts.” Omri

“The food contains everything that soldiers need to be in good shape. Breakfast and dinner are pretty much the same every time, but they try to make lunches interesting. When we are on a field mission we usually eat ‘war meals’ which comprise canned tuna, corn, beans and so on. Since the pandemic, the dining rooms at the bases have been closed, and the soldiers have to eat outside or in an improvised dining area. It’s been difficult logistically.” Sofia


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