Are Vegan Fast Food Options an Evil in Disguise?
Eating vegan (or plant-based) can be an incredibly lonely experience, especially for those who have no vegan friends or family members to help them along the way; often, those of us who choose meatless or cheese-less options at a restaurant are gawked at or scolded for being too fussy, though in my opinion most plant-based options are more adventurous than your standard variation of meat and two veg. For vegans who have experienced this kind of loneliness the new vegan menu items at McDonald’s (‘The Spicy Veggie Wrap’), Burger King (‘The Impossible Whopper’), KFC (‘The Imposter Burger’), Greggs (‘Vegan Roll’) and more will no doubt be a blessing, finally allowing them the freedom to order fast food with their friends or grab something quick and cheap on the go without facing judgment – but, is this all too good to be true?
Science has long been in agreement that our best chance of saving the planet lies on our plates. Earlier this month, the United Nations urged us all to take ‘rapid action’ in order to improve our diets and prevent forecast ‘worldwide food shortages’ triggered by global warming, singling out red meat as the worst food contributor of greenhouse gases.Eating beef 3-5 times a week contributes roughly 1,611kg towards annual emissions, about the same amount given out by driving a petrol car 4,112 miles or taking 5 return flights from London to Malaga (though at least those emissions could take you somewhere nice on holiday rather than just land you with indigestion). The meat and dairy industry, then, is the world’s largest polluter.
From one perspective, the fast food industry’s move towards veganism might seem like a win – as stated earlier, in a personal sense these plant-based options could increase social opportunities for vegans; having cheap and accessible vegan options could also encourage others to swap their bi-weekly Big Mac to a veggie wrap instead, something that could drastically cut an individual’s carbon emissions. These vegan options have already gone down swimmingly with the online community, with a number of popular YouTubers releasing positive reviews of the vegan items.
But I think people are forgetting the primary purpose of these new menu items – business. According to Forbes, McDonald’s' net worth is $148.8 billion as of May 2019, ranking number 10 on the list of the world’s most valuable brands; KFC is worth $8.5 billion, and Burger King comes in at $3.4 billion. But all of this capital comes without even tapping the economic potential of the vegan/vegetarian consumer – so imagine what has happened to those numbers since their new menu items were announced.
Fast food chains are never going to stop the production of their famous meat items – who could imagine McDonald’s without the Big Mac, Burger King without the Whopper, or KFC without their namesake Kentucky Fried Chicken? The added capital that these companies will gain from their expanded market will only go towards the creation of more meat items, such as the Spicy Chicken Nuggets that were released earlier this month after much anticipation (although most reviews suggest the product isn’t worth the hype). Should vegans really be investing their money into companies that give them almost nothing back?
From an ethical and environmental standpoint as well, one has to question whether these fast food options are worth buying; McDonald’s is known for its claim to have sold billions of burgers, 75 per second according to 2013 figures, so we can only speculate the amount of damage it has already done and continues to do to the environment; the company has repeatedly come under fire for its animal cruelty, particularly towards chickens which reportedly ‘are among the most abused animals on the planet’. Burger King and KFC too have never been innocent of charges surrounding animal abuse, with regular reports of workers and suppliers punching, kicking and stamping on the animals they produce. Is this really an industry that vegans, people who advocate animal welfare and environmental action, should be supporting?
It’s very easy to get swept up in the craze of vegan fast food because of its cheap cost, accessibility, and sociability factor, but we should not forget that the companies producing these are only in it for the money. The Big Three fast food chains will never change their ways; after all, it’s meat that made them famous – so while we can expect to see more inclusive menu items popping up at these stores over the coming years, you’ll never see them drop the beef.
Image credit: Joiarib Morales Uc