You might be surprised to learn that vegetarian and vegan practices date back thousands of years. Famous Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras notably espoused vegetarian principles as far back as 500 BCE.
The vegan lifestyle wasn’t formalized until 1944 when Donald Watson coined the term to differentiate vegetarians who avoided all animal products from those who only gave up meat. He launched the vegan society, and a movement began to grow.
While many vegans practice the lifestyle for ethical reasons, the recent growth in veganism could also be attributed, at least in part, to a push for healthier and more sustainable diets devoid of the many fats found in meat and animal products.
The result has been growing demand for vegan options in restaurants, and plenty of establishments are paying attention and changing their menus.
Nearly Half of Restaurants Now Offer Vegan Options
All kinds of alternate diets have emerged as more people are diagnosed with issues like gluten and dairy intolerance, along with a range of dangerous food allergies. Vegan diets are also on the rise, and the food industry has taken notice.
According to a report from the Plant Based Food Association (PBFA), 48.4% of U.S. restaurants now offer plant-based menu items, representing 62% growth over the last decade. This includes casual and fine dining establishments, as well as fast food, and the latter has embraced the trend to a surprising degree.
Vegan Fare from Fast Food Restaurants
Sociologist and University of Maryland professor George Ritzer cites four driving principles for success in the fast food industry — efficiency, calculability, control, and predictability. Perhaps this is why it’s rare to see frequent menu changes (outside limited seasonal additions).
That said, fast food is designed for mass appeal, and when the masses started clamoring for vegetarian and vegan options, the industry listened.
The Big Three: McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC
Arguably the most popular fast food chain in the world, McDonald’s hardly needs to appeal to alternative diet crowds. Yet, they’ve made a token effort with a test rollout of the McPlant Burger (co-developed with Beyond Meat and vegan certified) and a garden salad without cheese.
Burger King offers similar menu options, with an Impossible Whopper (sans mayo and cheese), a cheese-free garden salad, and a vegan apple pie. The vegan French Toast sticks are free of animal products but prepared on shared equipment, which some vegans are against.
Burger King has also been testing another Impossible collaboration recently — the Original Chik’n Sandwich, which is slated for nationwide release.
It’s hard to imagine finger-lickin’ chicken getting a vegan upgrade, but KFC was actually among the early adopters of Beyond Chicken. Initially, it was only available for a limited time, but last year, they brought it back and rolled it out nationwide.
Mexican Fare: Taco Bell and Chipotle
Taco Bell has taken a different approach to a vegan menu by simply offering a laundry list of plant-based ingredients that can be subbed in when building a meal rather than creating specific menu items.
Chipotle, however, has really beefed up its menu (so to speak) with vegetarian and vegan bowls, plant-based chorizo, sofritas (a meat substitute for tacos, burritos, and more), and of course, a long list of animal-free ingredients (beans, rice, etc.).
Beverages and More: Starbucks and Dunkin’
Starbucks has long offered dairy-free milks (for an upcharge), but it seems that charge may soon be changing as the coffee chain caters to vegan customers. They’ve also added an Impossible Breakfast Sandwich and Chickpea Bites & Avocado Protein Box to their food menu.
Dunkin’ Donuts has a truly impressive vegan menu, as well, including avocado toast, a Beyond Sausage breakfast sandwich, myriad beverages, and more.
Vegan Options Increase Appeal to Broader Audience
Vegans were long on the fringes of society, but more people are switching to this healthy and ethical diet and lifestyle. Restaurants that want to appeal to the masses would be well-served to follow the example of fast food chains and find ways to accommodate vegetarian and vegan diners.
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