I still remember dining out when I was a baby vegetarian (over 20 years ago, I can’t believe it!)—ordering grilled cheese off the kid’s menu and house salads full of iceberg lettuce were the staples. I grew up in rural America—one stoplight, a blockbuster (does anyone remember those!?), and a small grocery store were the highlights— if you needed anything else, you had to head into one of the neighboring “big cities.”
Back then, I couldn’t imagine having umpteen veggie burger options, creamy and delicious vegan ice cream, and melty cow-free cheeses. It was downright laughable to think you could ever stroll through the McDonalds drive-thru and order something other than a Big Mac but hold the meat (I remember the puzzled looks on the employees’ faces—you want a what? Did you really say no meat?).
Back in those days you practically had to milk your own almonds! The convenience of a variety of dairy-free milk within easy reach was a far-flung dream.
Fast forward to today, all of that has changed.
Just about every major supermarket (plus a large number of small and specialty markets) in the US are stocked with vegan cheeses, burgers, sausages—hell, even brands like Beyond and Impossible have started to become so mainstream that we can find them at places like Burger King, KFC, and McDonald’s! Yes, you read that correctly—fast-food behemoths have even jumped on the meat-free train. Something that was once a silly April Fool’s joke started by vegan media (VegNews ran a story years ago that KFC was selling vegan chicken) is now a reality!
The available options have grown exponentially over the last decade (think of how far we’ve come with vegan cheese!) and are poised for explosive growth in the near future. According to a Bloomberg Intelligence report, the plant-based food market was valued at just $29.4 billion in 2020, which is expected to rise by 451% to $161.9 billion in 2030! Major brands like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and Oatley are to thank for some of this growth, along with partnerships with restaurant and fast-food chains.
That’s amazing—it’s something we should pop the vegan bubbly and test out our Tik Tok dance moves in celebration, right?!
Well for some of us it is.
“It’s not really vegan.”
“It’s not healthy.”
“It’s so processed that it’s no better than meat!”
And, those are just a few of the many comments that I have read on multiple vegan groups’ Facebook pages.
When KFC announced that it would sell Beyond chicken nuggets, it was like kerosene on their fire. Some groups were forced to go as far as to say that any comments about the KFC nuggets would be banned regardless of whether they were positive or not. The arguing had just gone too far, and it was creating a toxic environment for those who were genuinely excited about the option or wanted to share their taste test review.
And, this, my friends, is what needs to stop. I’m not talking about just the fast-food commentary—it’s all of it. The condescending comments when someone asks a simple question (many times the question asker will preface it with “I’m new” or “Please only positive feedback” for fear of backlash), the support requested when someone is struggling, and the superiority that your veganism is the pinnacle for all veganism.
This toxic behavior further reinforces the idea that veganism is only for people with certain privileges—it misses the mark that this isn’t about you all the damn time!
Let’s briefly go back to the fast-food argument.
If KFC buys Beyond Chicken and it sells well then the basic principles of economics (let’s exclude the whole government subsidy convo, for now, that’s another ball of wax) say that eventually, they’d start to buy fewer real chickens! If fewer real chickens are purchased then fewer chickens have to be raised for slaughter, and in a real Utopian world, if these companies keep seeing demand for vegan products, they will add more (hopefully removing animal-based products)!
We have to remember that these companies are in it to make money and if plant-based nuggets and burgers are selling, they will look for more opportunities in the market. All of this means less cruelty for the animals and the people who have to work in these abusive systems! We can’t forget that the animals aren’t the only ones suffering in these oppressive systems.
Thousands of workers are forced into unfair and unsafe working conditions every day. People are forced to live with harmful pollution in the air and water that these farms and factories create—many don’t have the mobility to get out of it.
And, if you’re still not sold on the idea, let me ask you one thing, do you only shop at vegan stores? If you shop at Target, Walmart, heck, even major supermarkets, it’s not all that different. They all participate in non-vegan activities that we wouldn’t necessarily support if we had the option.
It’s not like we live in a vegan world—one that is free of oppression, racism, sexism, and abuse.
Aside from the hopeful continued shift in cruel buying patterns, you always have to remember that not everyone is in your situation. Just sit with that for a moment. Are you able to go out and buy just about everything you need to stock your cupboard (including essential and non-essential vegan items)?
Well, that’s not the reality for everyone else.
What if a person is really only able to access or afford fast food when dining out? Does that mean that they can’t be a part of the vegan movement? Or a kid out with friends who really wants to try this vegan thing but worries about being teased when they all want to go to Burger King? Does the Impossible Whopper really not count? Or how about people who are just busy and decide to make a “meat” lover’s pizza for their family because they don’t have time to dehydrate chips to make some fancy raw dish?
We have to meet people where they are, which might be far from where you are, and guess what? That is ok.
We have far more important things to argue about, like ensuring fresh produce isn’t a luxury in inner cities, ensuring marginalized communities have access to clean air and water—free of factory farming waste, demanding companies who have the means to stop dietary racism practices (ahem, I’m looking at you Starbucks), putting pressure on our elected officials to invest in plant-based alternatives and farming alternatives. Honestly, the list could go on.
Look, we all got into this movement for a variety of reasons and that’s great, but what’s not great is when you decide to take someone else down because their choices don’t meet your standards. It’s unfair.
How in the world is this movement going to progress if we keep cutting people down because they want to eat processed vegan food, try the McPlant at McDonald’s, have a simple question, or need support because they’ve fallen off the vegan wagon?
So, vegans, I ask, can we stop arguing already?