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  • Writer's pictureBryan

The Fast Food Paradigm

Everyone seems to be going plant-based these days…

From your local cafe embracing the plant milk revolution to immense corporations taking a tentative step through the vegan door, the world is realizing across the board that a plant-based lifestyle is here to stay… and the best lifestyle for us to stay here.

It’s no great surprise that even the most ardently animal-based brands are venturing into the world of veganism.

The marketplace is shifting exponentially, and even dairy farms are realizing that their days are numbered.

For example, consumption of cow milk in the US has dropped by an average of 12 percent [1], while the sale of plant mylks has increased by 20 percent over the last year alone. So much has the plant mylk industry boomed, it is now worth $2.5 billion and accounts for over one-third of all plant-based products [2].

The same is true across the board, with vegan food sales swelling by 45 percent in 12 months [1].

This is more than enough to make major businesses stand up and take notice. Burger King has just proudly announced the opening of its first completely plant-based restaurant in Madrid, Spain. Established “to reach both people who base their diet on vegetable products and those who do eat meat but who reduce their consumption”,

It is clear that the King of Burgers is all too aware of the shift, even in those with no intention of ditching meat forever.

McDonald’s has joined forces with Beyond Meat, as too, has Denny’s [4,5], while Starbucks is implementing ‘plant positive initiatives’, including dairy-free whipped cream in selected stores [6], and Hershey’s has just launched its first range of plant-based chocolate bars in several flavors [7].

It seems as if the whole world is moving in the right direction, but is this a paradigm shift, a sign of the times or simply ‘green-washing’ by the corporations to get their slice of the raw vegan cheesecake?

It seems like a little of both.

In Australia, local chain Grill’d Burgers teamed with Beyond Meat and celebrity chef, Heston Blumenthal to offer more plant-based options on their menu. Though this seems incredibly positive, there is some debate around just how vegan it is, not only the entire burger, with questionable use of dairy and animal products within the so-called ‘vegan’ cheese, but also in the patty itself.

Initially, it was suggested that “the Impossible Burger was tested on animals”. In reality, the Impossible corporation did, indeed, test some of their ingredients, specifically heme iron, on animals to make sure it was fit for human consumption [8].

While they have declared that they no longer test on animals in any way, it’s a pretty poor start for a supposedly vegan-friendly brand.

Though no source can be found at this time, Grill’d’s vegan cheese has also come into question, with some asking whether it contains casein, a dairy-derived ingredient that gives cheese its stretch.

Palm oil also comes into contention with such newly-developed products. While palm oil is plant-based, the industry is horrendously destructive, causing mass deforestation, vast amounts of pollution through carbon-producing burn-offs and threatening many species, including the highly endangered Sumatran orangutan.

Despite the efforts of regulators, the industry is as overwhelmingly cloudy as the skies during a burn-off, meaning that even certified sustainable palm oil might be far from it and still causing extensive damage [9].

With statistics such as this, it’s little wonder that any new product launch, especially from a formerly meat-oriented company, is met with a certain amount of skepticism. But is this justified?

Are they doing the best they can, or are they, in fact, simply exploiting a growing market trend for financial gain?

One of the problems is that the nature of major business is to be continually striving for perpetual growth. If a trend arises and is deemed a viable investment, the company — whoever they may be and whatever their reasoning — will understandably take action. This can be evinced in the gimmicky plastic toys on offer with every Crappy Meal on the release of every new Disney or Marvel movie.

This is no way to begin ethical enterprise — but is it still ‘enough’?

A feisty vegan activist would argue that they might as well not bother at all, and the corrupt corporations are simply exploiting the snow-white reputation of vegans worldwide.

In a sense, this is true.

If companies declare a product vegan, they should do all they can to ensure that it not only contains no animal products, but also does no secondary harm, such as in the case of palm oil.

There is also the fact that, even when buying plant-based products, consumers are still investing in destructive, dairy and meat-based companies, sustaining their ability to keep producing and selling animal products.

For me, the fast-food appeal simply isn’t there. Occasionally, I might indulge, but without a strong desire to consume these products, I tend to avoid them. But for many, a burger is the cornerstone of their weekly meal plan, or at least a familiar dish in their diet, and that includes those who are veg-curious or simply wishing to reduce their meat intake.

And this is where the goodness lies. Even when taking everything else into account — the dubious ingredients, the company history, and even the existing animal-based products — the growth and adoption of plant-based products in the mainstream is still a good thing. Perfect? Absolutely not, and they still have a long, long way to go.

But, as they say, every journey begins with a single step…


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