Fania Lewando – a Jewish Pioneer of Vegetarianism From Vilnius


Today, almost everyone knows at least one vegetarian or vegan person who has given up either meat or all products of animal origin (milk, butter, etc.). In other words, most people agree that vegetables and fruits are healthier than meat. However, this was not always the case. Not eating meat surprised many people in Lithuania up until the mid-twentieth century. Lithuanians have been engaged in animal farming for a long time, the oldest domestic animals kept in the territory of Lithuania were pigs, and pork was one of the main elements of Lithuanian traditional dishes. Meat dishes were associated with celebrations, satiety, luxury, and vegetable dishes – with poverty, mourning and everyday food. 

Therefore, few people know that Fania Lewando (1887–1941), the pioneer of vegetarianism, lived in Vilnius. The author of the first book of vegetarian recipes in Yiddish [Jewish] in Europe realised the importance of vegetarianism long before the ideas of vegetarianism and veganism became popular. Shewas born in what is now Poland, but moved to Vilnius in the 1920s. Lewando opened a kosher vegetarian food restaurant Dieto-Jarska Jadlodajnia (‘Diet-Vegetarian Canteen’) on Vokiečių Street in the city centre. There was also a school of kosher cooking led by Lewando: kosher food is prepared according to the Torah's instructions (the Torah consists of the first five books of the Old Testament). Religious Jews can only eat kosher food – all other food is considered “dirty.”

Lewando's restaurant was famous not only in Vilnius, but also beyond, it was visited by world celebrities. For example, the painter Marc Chagall (1887–1985) wrote that the cuisine was ‘great’ in the restaurant’s review book. Lewando 's book on vegetarian dishes, published in 1938, was a global success – it was sold in Eastern Europe, Great Britain and even the USA. Unfortunately, this recipe book, like most Jewish books, was banned in Europe after the rise of fascism.

The fate of Lewando's family is tragic, like that of most Litvaks, Lithuanian Jews. Before the start of World War II, she and her husband tried to emigrate to the United States, but did not receive a permit and had to remain in Vilnius. In 1941, in an attempt to flee the Nazis, they were captured by  the Soviet army. Their fate afterwards is unknown. In memory of Fania Lewando a memorial stone (Stolpersteine)  was installed on Vokiečių st. 14 where her restaurant used to be.

The memory of Lewando is best preserved in her book of vegetarian recipes, which survived the adversities of World War II. It includes traditional Jewish recipes such as potato pudding kugel, pancakes, compotes, borscht, and vegetarian versions of meat dishes – cholent, kishka, and schnitzel. Most meals are very easy to prepare.

Delicious and healthy cauliflower schnitzel recipe:

Vienna Cauliflower Schnitzel

Chop 1 small boiled cauliflower and mix it with 1 large egg, 1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt. Melt quarter of a cup butter in a pan, shake the mass and fry on both sides until it starts to simmer. Serve with a fried egg on top, with fried fresh potatoes and carrot bake.

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