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Should we support fast-food chains that offer vegan alternatives?

Over the last decade, a growing number of the population has adopted a vegan lifestyle. As a result, the demand for vegan alternatives at restaurants and in supermarkets has become much greater. Evidence shows that adopting a vegan lifestyle is good for both your health and the planet. Whether people choose to completely adopt the diet, or rather trial it, the food industry must provide options for them. The real question is: although fast-food chains are investing into vegan alternatives, should we be endorsing the overall business?

On the one hand, we should support these fast-food chains as they are promoting a vegan lifestyle. However, these restaurants have also made a significant contribution to the meat industry and as such, provide funding to non-ethical animal farming.

Due to the increasing popularity of veganism and plant-based diets, it makes business sense for fast-food chains to adopt this approach and to invest in vegan alternatives. Unless you live in an area such as Los Angeles, the chances are, you will not come into contact with many purely vegan restaurants, or purely vegan supermarkets. In theory, if you aren’t deterring from these businesses, then you shouldn’t be boycotting non-vegan restaurants for this reason alone. 

Evidence shows that adopting a vegan lifestyle is good for both your health and the planet

In my opinion, we should be supporting the production of vegan alternatives no matter the case. By increasing the accessibility of these products, it will promote those of a meat-based diet to at least venture into this concept.  Having discussed this topic with the University of Warwick’s Vegan and Vegetarian Society, a member of the group stated: “I think for people that aren’t vegan or vegetarian, it might make them consider it.” Following on from this, another student replied: “We should support vegan products wherever they are, because that is how the brand will know where the demand is”. 

The consensus is that we should promote the supply of vegan options to further encourage more of the population to try out these diets, as well as to stimulate large investment into the vegan market. By not purchasing vegan options produced by fast-food giants, who are focused solely on profit, it will likely deter these companies from investing in the industry in the future.

The goal is to make plant-based substitutes more accessible to the wider population. However, ready-prepared vegan meals often attract a higher price point, due to both the issue of supply and demand and catering to a niche market.  A representative from PETA, the largest animal rights organisation in the world, stated: “vegan specialty foods, like prepared veggie burgers, etc., are sometimes more expensive than their non-vegan counterparts, but fortunately, they aren’t the only options”. Experienced vegans will tend to cook with raw ingredients and specific items relative to the vegan lifestyle. They do not rely on ready-prepared vegan meals. Those that will strongly benefit from fast-food vegan options are often inexperienced in the field – or on a lower income, who cannot fully invest in the market.

Another problem that arises from supporting fast-food chains that offer vegan alternatives is the endorsement of corporate greenwashing

Furthermore, it is unlikely that a fast-food giant such as KFC, for example, would ever reduce the number of meat products it sells. Rather, they would create more vegan products on top of their already established menu. Some people believe that meat products simply lack the innovation, meanwhile vegan substitutes – being new and upcoming –  will soon dominate the food market. However, another problem that arises from supporting fast-food chains that offer vegan alternatives is the endorsement of corporate greenwashing. This happens when companies advertise themselves as sustainable when their manufacturing and production processes suggest the opposite.

In a normal social setting, the number of meat-eaters will often outweigh the number of vegans or vegetarians. For students especially, fast-food restaurants are very popular. But, not all restaurants are the same. Nando’s for example, have introduced plant-based options to their menu, including the “Great Imitator”. On their website, it says: “Going head-to-head with our classic chicken burger, The Great Imitator weighs in at well under half the carbon footprint”.

Alongside this, Nando’s have also opened a 100% sustainable restaurant in Cambridge. Tara Brookes, a headhunter within the Global Restaurant Industry, commented: “Inside the restaurant, intricate lampshades made from mushrooms will light the eating areas. The Cambridge restaurant will be the first Nando’s in the world to be powered by 100 percent renewable electricity and gas.”

If fast-food chains are going to invest in the vegan market, then they must take appropriate action to separate the meat from the vegetables

So, why is it that many vegans are still weary of eating at non-vegan restaurants? The main reason it seems is cross-contamination. The “Great Imitator”, for example, is still cooked on the same grill as meat products, though in a “meat-free” area. This close contact can put-off potential customers. If fast-food chains are going to invest in the vegan market, then they must take appropriate action to separate the meat from the vegetables. In addition to this, a vegan diet is often the healthier lifestyle choice. Although the “Great Imitator” is a healthier option, it still has the image of being fast-food, thus appearing off-putting to the typical vegan.

Overall, there seems to be a greater number of arguments in favour of supporting fast-food chains that offer vegan alternatives. They not only promote the vegan lifestyle, but increase accessibility to it. It can also be concluded however, that these vegan options will be more effective with those trialling the diet, rather than with those who have already fully immersed themselves into the vegan lifestyle.

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