Fast food chains have been upping their vegan game lately. McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and more have all been expanding their plant-based offerings. But sometimes you just want a quick burger from a place that doesn’t have animal products on its menu, and isn’t a multinational corporation.
You can find fully vegan fast food restaurants across the UK and US. But in a sea of big name brands, they can be hard to spot. Here we pick out some gems, run by people who want to make the world better for animals.
Vegan fast food market
Vegan fast food is becoming big business. Awareness is growing that producing plentiful, cheap meat for fast food depends on cruel and environmentally harmful practices. These include intensively farmed fast-growing breeds of chickens and grazing cows on deforested land in the Amazon.
More people now want to enjoy their fast food without contributing to these problems. Plant-based meat alternatives that taste and feel more like animal-based meat makes this increasingly easy to do.
Globally, the vegan fast food market is worth around USD $25 billion. It is expected to hit $60.4 billion by 2032. Europe and North America account for a large share of the share. Growing ethical, health, and sustainability concerns are also driving growth in countries such as China, Indonesia, and India.
What is vegan fast food?
Fast food is what it sounds like: food served fast, and usually eaten quickly in the restaurant or as a take-away. Burgers, chicken nuggets, pizza, kebabs, chips – all these familiar fast food items exist in vegan forms. Instead of meat from animals (or being cooked in animal fat), they are simply made from plant-based ingredients.
Some of the plant-based substitutes have become so realistic that they have left meat-eaters stunned. Alison Hammond, host of This Morning on ITV, had one such reaction when she taste-tested vegan chicken nuggets on live TV. “I just can’t believe they taste like chicken. What’s the point of eating chicken when you can eat those?” she said.
Is vegan fast food healthier than regular fast food?
Vegans will eat plant-based fast food because it doesn’t involve harming animals. But meat-eaters often opt for it because they tend to perceive it as healthier than regular fast food made with meat. Is there any truth to this?
The meat-eaters are right that animal-based fast food is pretty unhealthy. It tends to be high in calories, salt, sugar, and saturated fat, while containing little fiber. High-salt diets increase blood pressure, putting stress on the cardiovascular system. Too much saturated fat pushes up cholesterol and increases the risk of heart disease. Sugar is major cause of obesity.
While a Big Mac contains 26 grams of protein, it also contains nearly half the recommended daily intake of saturated fat. It will also give you 37 percent of your recommended salt intake, and 10 percent of your sugar intake.
One of the criticisms of vegan fast food is that it provides less nutrition but similar quantities of salt and sugar. McDonald’s McPlant burger, for example, has similar salt and sugar content to it’s Big Mac, but less saturated fat and 19 grams of protein.
The evidence for the nutritional quality of plant-based meat compared to animal-based versions of the same products is currently limited and inconclusive. One review of the evidence found some benefits to plant-based alternatives over animal-based ones – e.g. higher fiber content, lower saturated fat – and vice versa.
But another review noted that plant-based alternatives have the advantage of being able to be made “even more nutritionally robust.” This is due to ongoing developments in ingredients and processing, as well as further fortification with minerals and nutrients.
Those worried about plant-based meats being ‘ultra-processed’ can relax. A recent study found that the worst for increasing the risk of cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes were animal-based ultra-processed foods like sausages and ham. Artificially and sugar-sweetened drinks were another big culprit. Meanwhile, no link was found between plant-based alternatives and an increased risk of these diseases.
Still, if you are trying to be healthier, the evidence indicates that a wholefoods plant-based is the best choice.
Vegan fast food restaurants UK
The No Catch Co
Fish and chips is a British fast food staple. But industrial fishing is destroying marine life and the health of the oceans. That’s why Ed Winters (Earthling Ed) and Kevyn Bourke set up The No Catch Co in 2021.
With a seaside location in Brighton, The No Catch Co serves up vegan versions of fish and chip shop favorites. Cod or haddock with chips, battered sausages, calamari, and “popcorn prawns” are among the tasty options on the menu. The “fish” is made from tofu and is astoundingly fish-like in texture and taste.
The first Ready Burger opened in Crouch End, north London, in 2021 to bring affordable, vegan fast food to the UK high street. A second location on Finchley Road has since opened.
The restaurants look pretty similar to other fast food joints and serves burgers and meal combos of the sort you would expect to find at McDonald’s. You can get a Bacon Double Cheeseburger, Fillet No Fish Burger, nuggets, fries, and soft drinks. Soft serve ice-cream desserts and donuts are also available.
Ready Burger uses carbon labeling on its menu so you know what emissions are associated with each item. A Big Ready Burger, for example, produces 0.4 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents (Co2e). By contrast, a Big Mac produces around 2.35 kg of CO2e.
Oowee started out as a pop-up sandwich shop in Bristol in 2016 and morphed into Oowee Diner, an American-style diner. Though Oowee Diner wasn’t vegan, it’s vegan items were such a hit that its owners decided to run with it. Oowee Vegan opened in two Bristol locations in 2019. There are now restaurants in London and Brighton, with plans to expand to every city in the UK.
At Oowee you’ll find Plant-Based Beef Burgers, Fried Chick’n Burgers, and a Symplicity Shroom Burger with all the classic fast food toppings. There are also wraps, Dirty Fries, Loaded Mac’n’Cheese, as well as shakes and churros for dessert.
The Vurger Co
The first Vurger Co restaurant opened in Shoreditch in 2018, two years after first opening as a small market stall. Brighton and Manchester have since gained their own Vurger Co restaurants, and the company has released a cookbook.
Menu highlights include ‘Chicken’ n Waffles, Buffalo ‘Chicken’ Burger, and Tater Tots. The Vurger Co says it saved the equivalent of 15 tons of beef, 500 kg of CO2 and 140 million litres of water by selling vegan burgers in 2019 alone.
This “McDonald’s-inspired” fast food restaurant opened in Manchester in 2021, and now has a second location in Croydon’s trendy Box Park. But Vegan Shack actually began life in the flat of co-founders Dimeji and Saffron. They made their first burgers in their own kitchen, using Instagram to receive orders, which they delivered themselves.
Vegan Shack has an extensive menu reminiscent of McDonald’s. There are breakfast items such as a sausage-style patty in an English muffin, and “Lunch Saver” deals. Burger options include Fillet Faux Fish and Chick’n Burger, with nuggets, tater tots and more for sides.
Vegan fast food restaurants USA
Monty’s Good Burger
Started by five friends in 2018, Monty’s Good Burger now has five location in Los Angeles. Its menu is simple, sticking to a handful of classic burger, side, and shake options. Its burgers are made with patties and chicken from Impossible.
Monty’s Good Burger’s animal-friendly credentials don’t stop at its completely plant-based menu. It also tries to help rehome companion animals, hosting a Dog and Cat Adoption Drive once a month.
Seasoned Vegan Real Quick
Run by mother and son duo Brenda and Aaron Beener, New York City’s Seasoned Vegan Real Quick serves food to-go only. It emerged out of the Beener’s original Harlem-based Seasoned Vegan restaurant, which had to switch to take-out and delivery only during the pandemic. After their Harlem lease ran out, the new Seasoned Vegan was born.
Seasoned Vegan Real Quick does vegan fast food a little differently. With a menu inspired by southern classics, the “meat” in its vegan takes on po’boys and burgers is made from some unexpected ingredients. The Craw Pretzel Boy features “crawfish” made from fried burdock root. The Harlem Chopped “Cheese” Burger is made with “oat meat” chopped and grilled with ketchup and vegan cheddar. Cupcakes are on sale for dessert, baked by Brenda.
Set in a retro-style diner, nomoo serves up classic beef and chicken burgers such as the Plant-Fil-A and BBQ Facon Double. There are also tacos, a Chick’n Caesar Salad, and Shroom Wings. The plant-based meat is made by nomoo and Beyond Meat.
Billed as the vegan McDonald’s, Mr Charlie’s does have a similar red and yellow aesthetic, but with an irreverent sad face in place of the famous ‘golden arches’. Founded by three friends who describe themselves as “weird dudes,” Mr Charlie’s has three California locations and one all the way over in Sydney, Australia.
It’s burgers are called things like “Not a Hamburger” and “Not a Cheeseburger”. If you saw one sitting on a plate you’d probably assume it was from McDonald’s. Apart from serving up affordable plant-based burgers, Mr Charlie’s has a social mission. The restaurants employ people transitioning from homelessness, incarceration or addiction.
Vegan fast food restaurants around the world
Soy Boys Burger, Toronto, Canada
This burger joint is set among the LGBTQ+ quarter of downtown Toronto, catering to hungry club-goers until 3 a.m. Soy Boys Burger has a simple menu; you can choose from a single or double Impossible patty burger, with a side of waffle fries. There are just three flavors of soft serve ice cream available for a sugar hit.
Eating a Soy Boys burger will also help restore nature. Soy Boys has partnered with Eden Reforestation Projects to plant trees in Madagascar.
Flower Burger, Italy, Netherlands, France
The first Flower Burger opened in Milan in 2015, becoming the Italian city’s first vegan burger restaurant. It has now expanded into France and the Netherlands, with one restaurant in Marseille and two in Amsterdam.
Flower Burger make the prettiest burgers you’ll ever see. The buns are yellow, black, purple, pink, and green using natural colorants such as turmeric and beetroot extract. The patties are made from simple plant-based ingredients, such as rice, oats, kidney beans, and mushrooms for the mushroom patty. Sides include breaded aubergine and edamame, and an appetizer of ‘Flower Bombs’ – a breaded mix of seitan and red kidney beans.
Odd Burger, Canada
What started out as a vegan meal service morphed into a fast food truck and eventually bricks and mortar restaurants. Now with three locations and three more coming soon, vegans in Canada will soon have no trouble finding an Odd Burger. The chain was founded by James and Vasiliki McInnes, who opened the world’s first 24-hour vegan drive thru in 2017. Odd Burger now also has its own manufacturing center that produces food for the restaurants and where research and development happens.
The beef-style burgers come with house-made smash patties, while the ChickUn Burgers feature house-made breaded seitan fillets. The menu offers a whole range of loaded fries and tater tots, including the Canadian classic poutine.