KFC has become the latest fast food vendor to cause mass hysteria amongst the vegan Facebook groups after announcing that they are set to introduce a plant-based version of their famous fried chicken. We look at how veganism is causing a stir in the fast food industry.

Queues forming before the store even opened, a social media frenzy and a stockpile wiped clear after only five hours. You would be forgiven for thinking that these were scenes surrounding the release of the latest iPhone. It was, in fact, the first US trial of vegan KFC, giving Americans a taste of the chaos that engulfed the UK when Gregg’s launched its vegan sausage roll.

Vegan fast food is the latest trend to grip the meat and dairy-free community, and more brands appear to be jumping on the bandwagon by offering a vegan-friendly option.  Ironically, as it becomes easier to plant you gnashers into a meat-free alternative, it becomes harder to do so healthily. We take a look at the vegan junk food options, how this is possible and the true benefits for yourself and the environment. 

 

2019: The year of the vegan junk alternative.

Sadly, the vegan KFC was a trial limited to a single store in Atlanta to gauge whether it could garner enough interest. However,  given the strong reaction, an international expansion does not seem unlikely. 

This is not the only big-brand vegan alternative to be announced this year.

UK vegans have already been given a taste of the alternative KFC after they launched a trial of their Imposter Burger in selected stores earlier this year and boosted sales by 500%. 

Similarly, Burger King rolled out their ‘Impossible Whopper’ nationwide for a limited time after a successful trial period in the US.

Subway has had a vegan subway and salad on the menu since January in the UK. 

And who could leave out Greggs? Due to the 2018 introduction of their vegan sausage selling out (even if sales were perhaps partly just to spite Piers Morgan), they have recently announced that they plan to release vegan options for all of their bestselling pasties, slices and sweet treats. 

Dominika Piasecka, spokeswoman for The Vegan Society, said: “We are delighted to see big chains such as KFC and Greggs providing delicious, affordable and accessible options for vegans.

“The more vegan products that enter the market, the easier it is for people to eat more plants, and these products are not only popular among vegans but also thousands of other people eating an increasingly plant based diet.

“As vegan products have made their way from health food shops to mainstream supermarkets, veganism is no longer seen as a ‘special’ diet and is now recognised for being an ethical lifestyle choice.”

 

To the Impossible and Beyond: What is in vegan fast food and why are they so popular?

The rise of vegan fast food has largely been down to two key brands, focusing on providing meat alternatives: Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Both have produced burgers and ‘meat’ made from plant-based sources. The Impossible products found in Burger King are made from Heme, a haemoglobin found in soy, whilst Beyond Meat burgers used in the new vegan KFC range,have use pea protein isolate.

What makes these two brands so special is that, unlike most veggie burgers, their products look, feel and taste like real meat – with the Beyond Burger even ‘bleeding’ beetroot juice to create a real meaty hue. So, for those objecting to eating animals but deeply miss the taste of a proper greasy burger, this could definitely fill a gap, and may even convince a few meat-eaters to eat more ethically. 

 

Celebrity Endorsement

It seems that even vegan celebrities indulge in some junk food every now and then. Lewis Hamilton has invested in Neat Burger, a meat-free burger chain which recently opened its first store in Regent Street last month, and has plans for 14 more over the next two years. Neat Burger are also an adopter of Beyond Meat, who have  received investment from actor and environmental activist, Leonardo DiCaprio. 

“I am thrilled to officially welcome Leonardo DiCaprio to the Beyond Meat family,” said Ethan Brown, CEO of Beyond Meat in a press release. “Leo was helpful early on in providing feedback on our burgers as we readied them for launch, and I look forward to continuing to collaborate as we bring delicious, satiating products to a rapidly increasing consumer base.”

How is vegan fast food better for the environment?

Going vegan is one of the single biggest ways to reduce your environmental impact as it reduces water and land use, lowers pollution and slows deforestation. The main benefit of adopting more of a plant-based diet, is the reduced consumption of animals, with Beyond Meat estimating that 66 billion livestock are slaughtered every year for food. The fast food industry is particularly lousy in this respect, notorious for their reliance on factory farming, unquenched desire for meat and using up an estimated 10% of global water flows according to Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR). This is why these meat substitutes are also targeting meat eaters as well – there are far more benefits than just ticking off Piers Morgan.

 

How healthy is vegan fast food?

The big, healthy bonus of choosing a vegan variety of fast food is that it cuts out red meat.  The iron-rich meat has been linked to increasing the risk of cancer and heart disease, and contains high amounts of fibre that causes indigestion. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean plant-based substitutes suddenly make junk food healthy – for example the Impossible Whopper only has slightly fewer calories and saturated fat than Burger King’s original, and surprisingly exceeds the normal Whopper in sodium. Vegan options, sadly, are not the excuse we were all hoping for to justify a junk food binge, but is at least a tad healthier option for vegans – and indeed non-vegans alike.