The idea of eating a plant-based diet has come a long way from the hippie culture it was so often associated with in the past. According to The Food Revolution Network, there’s been a 600% increase in people identifying as vegans in the U.S in the last three years. Vegans are no longer just barefoot, free-spirits preaching the benefits associated with eating fewer animal products—they’re also our coworkers, neighbors, friends, and family. My brother has been a vegetarian for most of his life, and he was a vegan for a significant portion of time as well. During those years, I remember how difficult it was for him to eat quickly or on the go, especially if our family was on a road trip. We could only stop at specific fast food places, and even then he was lucky if he could eat the fries (Fun fact—McDonald’s fries aren’t vegan, they use “Natural Beef Flavor” to enhance the taste).
Over time, more fast food places have started offering vegan-friendly options. Taco Bell gives customers the option of ordering almost anything on the menu “fresco style” which “replaces mayo-based sauces, cheeses, reduced-fat sour cream and guacamole on almost any menu item with freshly-prepared pico de gallo”. While this option is typically marketed to reduce calories in their options, it’s handy for vegan customers as well (just be sure to remember to substitute beans instead of meat if you’re ordering an item that typically contains beef or chicken). In-N-Out is well known for their secret menu, which most people know has the vegetarian-friendly “grilled cheese”, also has the vegan-friendly “veggie”. The Veggie consists of lettuce, tomato, and grilled onions served on a vegan bun, and since In-N-Out’s fries are cooked in vegetable oil and those fryers are solely used for potatoes, their fries are vegan too. Finally, even Domino’s has options for vegans to get their pizza fix. Their thin crust doesn’t use any eggs or dairy, and you can pile on all the veggies you like (just skip the cheese of course).
But what about the quintessential American fast food experience? What about burgers? While White Castle’s Veggie Sliders start to break into the vegan-burger experience, my first exposure was Burgerlords in Los Angeles. This Chinatown (now also in Highland Park) restaurant captures the classic cheeseburger, milkshake, and loaded fries combo so perfectly—and they make it all vegan. Their patties are made from scratch in-house every day, and the “Lord of the Fries” offers all of the goodness of In-N-Out’s “Animal Style” fries (melted cheese, secret sauce, and grilled onions) without the animal products.
For everyone who isn’t living in Los Angeles, there is still hope for a good, vegan, fast food burger. Beyond Meat has been a leader in the “meat that looks, tastes, and acts like meat but isn’t meat” space for years and is now going public with an initial public offering of $1.2 billion. This shows that people are demanding better plant-based options for food, and fast food conglomerates are taking notice. In early April, Burger King started testing “Impossible Whoppers” in 59 locations around St. Louis. Those tests went well, and by the end of the month, the chain announced that the meat-alternative burgers will be available nationwide by the end of the year. While Impossible “meats” have been available at smaller chains (Mendocino Farms, White Castle, Fatburger), the jump to Burger King is a major step in availability of and access to plant-based products.
With faux-meat companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, fast food companies have no excuse to ignore the growing trend of vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian dieters. People are choosing to cut back on meat consumption for a variety of reasons, and having the option of a plant-based burger with a recognizable name and reputation on the menu can be a big pull for major chains to set themselves apart from one another. The time has come for vegans to be able to order more than just fries on their next road trip. McDonald’s—you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
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