Antoni Da Campo, from the canton of Valais, is appealing the decision, calling it unfair given the growing number of vegetarians in Switzerland, the 24heures newspaper reported on Tuesday.
“What strikes me is that institutions are not taking into account evolution in society,” he told the newspaper.
Da Campo, a business trainee, had passed his physical exam and was otherwise judged apt for the military service that is mandatory for all able-bodied Swiss men under the country's conscription system.
He said he was looking forward to doing his military training as “an experience that would bring me a lot”, 24heures said.
But the military doctor at the Blécherette recruitment centre in Lausanne determined in December that he was unfit for service, the daily said.
The decision was not solely based on the strict diet he has adopted for more than a year, which prohibits not only meat and fish but also dairy products, eggs and honey.
It was his refusal to wear leather footwear that sealed his fate.
Special treatment cannot be given to every recruit for food and clothing, Gabriela Zimmer, a spokeswoman for the army logistics base, told 24heures.
“The (military) service is a community of interests,” Zimmer said.
Only minor adaptations are possible for medical reasons (lactose or gluten intolerance, for example) or for religious reasons (refusal to eat pork).
“Like vegetarians, these people can put part of the menu to one side and compensate with another.”
Da Camp said when he refused to wear leather combat boots he was told to seek authorization from the military doctor to obtain imitation leather footwear.
The doctor contacted his superiors before telling the man he was “doubly unfit” for clothing and food logistics reasons.
“Careful, we are not saying that a vegetarian is not able to do his military service,” Caspar Zimmermann, another army spokesman, told 24heures.
“But the army operates from the efficiency of large groups, it cannot adapt itself to each individual.”
Individuals declared unfit for the army are required to pay a military tax amounting to three percent of their income each year until the age of 30.