burger king restaurant in london Burger King's flagship restaurant in London went vegan this week. Image credit: Plant Based News. - Media Credit:

Criticizing Vegan Fast Food For Being ‘Unhealthy’ Is Missing The Point

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5 Minutes Read

Burger King has officially unveiled its first-ever vegan branch, with the fast-food chain’s flagship Leicester Square restaurant in London going completely plant-based for a month. 

A few years ago, the idea of such a notoriously meat-based company embracing veganism to this extent would have been laughable. The move comes after a recent boom in demand for meat-free options in mainstream restaurants, and it feels like a genuine milestone in the vegan movement. 

Predictably, though, the rise of vegan fast food hasn’t been without controversy. The new Burger King range – just like other recent similar launches – has been criticized by some for its perceived ‘unhealthiness’. 

This criticism stems from a common misconception of what veganism actually is. It is often believed to be nothing more than a diet, meaning the influx of vegan fast food can be seen as redundant. By labeling it as unhealthy, many have argued that it’s pointless to choose it over its meat counterpart.

But whether or not the Plant-Based Whopper, McPlant, or any of their equivalents are ‘healthier’ than their meat versions is irrelevant. Most vegans aren’t under any illusion that their fast food is particularly ‘healthy’, and neither do they care. 

Social justice movement

Veganism is a social justice movement, not a fad diet. While the overall health benefits of plant-based eating are undeniable, most people choose these options to reduce animal suffering, not to be healthy. It of course isn’t recommended to eat junk food regularly, but doing so isn’t at odds with veganism.

Just like the general public, some vegans will choose to eat ‘healthily’ all the time, some will enjoy fast food in moderation, and others will choose to eat whatever they please. 

Despite this, The rise of vegan junk food has led to an influx of misguided discussions about whether or not we should choose it over meat, and many articles on the subject have come up with what they presumably think to be damning claims about the apparent unhealthiness of plant-based fast food.

Earlier this week, a paper branded vegan meat alternatives ‘the worst junk food of all’, citing the fact that they are ‘ultra-processed food’ (it’s worth noting that many breads and cereals also fall into this category).

Criticisms

When the Plant-Based Whopper was first introduced back in 2019, it sparked a number of articles comparing it with the original. One tabloid newspaper noted its high sodium and fat content, adding: “at the end of the day, it’s no healthier than a classic beef burger”.

A dietitian quoted in the piece also ‘recommended’ opting for beef burgers due to the “GMO foods, colors, flavorings” in the vegan option. 

In an article about the McDonald’s McPlant burger, another publication described its high salt content as a “disappointing downside”. Following the launch of the Greggs vegan sausage roll, a separate article titled “Why vegan junk food might be worse for your health” described the “unseen risks” of plant-based fast food. 

Cruelty and exploitation

Claims such as these have been disputed, and a number of studies have found that vegan burgers are in fact healthier than their counterparts, but this still isn’t the comparison we should be making. When weighing up the two options, we should instead be looking at their levels of cruelty. 

Cows exploited and killed in the ‘beef’ industry are subjected to unimaginable torture throughout their terrible lives. Soon after they are born, calves will often have their ears tagged and horn buds painfully removed with a hot iron, and many cows will spend their entire lives on the concrete floors of factory farms.

When they are ready to be killed, usually when they are between 12 and 24 months old, they will be transported to the slaughterhouse. These journeys can take hours, and many cows will die on the way due to stress and lack of food and water. After they arrive, they will be forced into a stun box and shot in the head with a captive bolt.

This should in theory render them unconscious, but improper stunning is rife within the industry. This means that cows can often feel everything when having their throats cut, and are sometimes still alive when being skinned. 

Eggs and dairy

The dairy cheese in a regular burger is taken from a cow who was repeatedly impregnated by artificial insemination until her worn-out body was sent to the slaughterhouse. Just like humans, cows form powerful bonds with their babies, and will often bellow and cry out for them for days when the farmer takes them away hours after birth so humans can take their milk. 

If your burger contains mayonnaise, it comes from an industry that routinely puts newly-hatched male chicks in an industrial macerator that grinds them up alive because they’re ‘surplus’ to requirements. The female hens have been selectively bred to produce 300 eggs a year (as opposed to the 10-15 they naturally would), meaning they suffer from osteoporosis and broken bones due to calcium deficiency.

Egg-laying hens generally spend most of their lives in cramped barns with thousands of other birds, and the air will be thick with ammonia from their waste. 

When faced with the reality of where meat burgers come from, the idea of disregarding vegan versions for vague and disputed claims of their relative ‘unhealthiness’ seems absurd. 

A philosophy and way of life

If you’ve been vegan for any length of time, you’ll be well-accustomed to being bombarded with unsolicited comments about your health.

We’re all used to being told veganism will make us ill and having strangers demand to know where we get our protein from, but now we’re being asked why we’re choosing such ‘unhealthy’ junk food, not in line with our supposed healthy eating plan. This further demonstrates that, when it comes to criticism of our lifestyle, we really cannot win. 

The definition of veganism, as outlined by The Vegan Society, is “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

There are, of course, people who go plant-based purely for health reasons – and this is a very legitimate route to take – but the vast majority of vegans aren’t any more interested in healthy eating than the average person. While living off nothing but vegan burgers is probably unwise, and we should of course all aim to eat a balanced diet, this criticism of our food is unwarranted and pointless. 

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The Author

Polly Foreman

Polly is the Deputy Editor of Plant Based News. She has been vegan since 2014, and has written extensively on veganism, animal rights, and the environment.

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Nancy P.
6 months ago

Thank you for this enlightening article. It’s tragic that there are some vegans who disparage these plant meats which have made their way into mainstream, and are being embraced by people who are not vegan or vegetarian! Health isn’t the only issue for some. There’s a set of vegans who refuse to support fast food restaurants regardless of the plant meats offered. They say they only want to support vegan businesses. Of course we need to support businesses and that’s each person’s choice. Yet it’s equally important to support businesses offering plant-based/vegan meats and cheeses. At least don’t criticize and turn others away. It’s a shame we have to keep stating the obvious.

Plant Based News Moderator
Plant Based News Moderator
5 months ago
Reply to  Nancy P.

Absolute agree with you Nancy!

nommh
nommh
6 months ago

Alas, it is not only vegans that disparage vegan processed / fast foods. Recently a non-vegan who had tried to eat plant-based for health reasons had not been vegan, because eating vegan meant eating things like vegan burgers or sausages which they all claim to be mere substitutions for the real thing.

However, unhealthy as the sugar, fat, and salt content in vegan fast food may be, there is still no cholesterol, no anti-biotic residue etc. in plant-based meat.

The world is not ready to go vegan any time soon. Like Nancy P. I think it is paramount to make vegan food available to non-vegans wherever possible. That way they can learn to see it as a viable option.

And yes, it would be lovely to reduce power of the global meat industry, but next best thing is making them invest into vegan options.

F Fuller
F Fuller
6 months ago

Giving money to huge companies who’re mainly non vegan isn’t necessarily good. We’re just making them richer and there’s a strong possibility that they’re merely jumping on the vegan band wagon. Take KFC for example. To buy their vegan options means you’re giving money to the largest slaughterer of chickens on Earth. It comes down to morals.

On this subject, it’s very interesting to me that PBN’s support This, a company run by 2 non vegans. Their concept was to sell vegan products even though their attitude to veganism has been openly negative. They’ve tried to make their attitude trendy. The 2 owners previously tried to set up burger joints. This failed so they too jumped on the vegan bandwagon. When they first launched my daughter contacted them because they claimed to offer vegan products but used eggs. She was told that their company was going to turn more people vegan than any other method on Earth, as an excuse to their use of eggs. Arrogant, to say the least. One of the owners then bombarded my daughter with requests to go to events etc with him.

She contacted PBN, big fans of This, to get their views and was told to ‘Fuc* Off’ by one of their video editors! Needless to say, we now see PBN as a company that will creep up to so called fashionable companies regardless of their lack of vegan morality.

Now that This have showed themselves up as a disgusting company, with disgraceful employees, who are being boycotted across the board, I wondered what PBN thought about them now?? What is more precious? Championing still a non vegan company always known to be negative towards vegans because they’re trendy, or championing vegans and their views? After all, PBN is a vegan company isn’t it?

I would have sent this as a comment had PBN given an email address to do so. I’m very interested to see if I get a reply.

Plant Based News Moderator
Plant Based News Moderator
5 months ago
Reply to  F Fuller

Hi F Fuller, we apologize for the late reply. Thank you for reaching out. As far we know the 2 owners of This are now fully vegan. I have brought your concerns to the management team and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Robbie @ Plant Based News
Reply to  F Fuller

Hello F Fuller, Robbie here. PBN cofounder. Thank you for your comment. We here your concerns about THIS! – and to be clear they are not immune to our criticism. https://plantbasednews.org/opinion/opinion-piece/plant-based-food-mainstream-alienating-vegans/ You and read about the views one of our writers published here.

I am concerned to hear that your daughter spoke to a video editor at PBN and verbally abused.

Please could you ask her to forward the email, screen shot the conversation please to [email protected] so we can address this internally.

Thank you
Robbie

MHC
MHC
6 months ago

But shouldn’t vegan food be just as cruelty free to human animals? By avoiding and eliminating the ingredients that poison us, make us become more and more unhealthy as we grow older. By lessening and eliminating things that incline us to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes , cancer and on and on?

Plant Based News Moderator
Plant Based News Moderator
5 months ago
Reply to  MHC

Choosing to eat vegan junk food does not harm a human in the same way eating animal foods harms the animal being killed. People are allowed to enjoy vegan junk food as part of a balanced life.

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