At the Drive Thru’

Back in June, I posted about going to Burger King for the first time in 24 years when the company began offering the plant-based Impossible Burger at San Francisco locations. Yesterday, Burger King rolled out the Impossible Whopper nationwide. You can now order it at any Burger King, in any city in America. The Impossible Whopper is my favorite meal right now and I am not alone. GrubHub reports that the Impossible Burger is the most popular late night food in America, across all demographics (vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters) and geographies (West Coast, Midwest, East Coast). If you try it, you’ll understand why. (To make it vegan, hold the mayo and bring your own or go old school with just ketchup and mustard.)

For those of you willing to try it, that is all. Stop reading here and get thee to Burger King for an Impossible Whopper, fries, and soda ⁠— the iconic American meal, without harm to animals.

In anticipation of criticism (given past comments), for those who have concerns about GMOs, cross-contamination, the healthiness of the Impossible Whopper, whether it is ethical to eat at companies like Burger King, and whether it is “vegan” given past testing on animals, here’s my view.

My goal is singular: to end harm to animals. Key to this is promoting plant-based alternatives of the kinds of foods people want to eat. As one of the largest fast food restaurant chains in the country, the arrival of a plant-based burger to Burger King is incredibly good news, regardless of whether it contains GMOs or not. If people are not going to stop eating fast food hamburgers, then the fast food hamburgers need to change. As such, I am not concerned about GMOs, sodium content, fat content, or whether the flavors and colors are natural or artificial except to the extent they are plant-based. I don’t want to create multiple hurdles to spare the lives of animals.

I also think the evidence of health risk is weak. Despite the use of genetically modified foods for close to half a century, the World Health Organization notes that “no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

Cross Contamination
Cross contamination is not really an issue for me, either, though I understand why people don’t like it and I would rather it not occur. I also understand why some people cannot tolerate it (such as those with celiac disease who need not just foods with no gluten in it, but a cooking process that does not result in gluten contamination). Finally, I also think restaurants should think this through more thoughtfully. Indeed, some do. P.F. Chang’s, for example, notes that they cook their plant-based foods with dedicated space, pots and pans, and utensils. Nothing I say below takes away from that and I realize it is not an either-or situation. I just want to offer a different perspective on why in terms of my food choices, it isn’t really about that for me as an ethical vegan and why I will still eat Burger King’s plant-based whopper regardless of potential cross contamination.

To me, veganism isn’t about the food. I know this sounds counterintuitive: that ethical plant-based eating is not about the food, but it isn’t. It’s about the animals and making sure that the choices I make do not cause loss of life or harm animals. It’s about taking action (or refusing to take certain actions) to encourage a kinder, gentler world for them to live in. And whether my otherwise plant-based burger comes into contact with a grill that isn’t strictly used for those plant-based burgers doesn’t really impact that. In fact, to the contrary.

Animal Testing
In getting FDA approval for the “bleeding” aspect of it (which comes from heme, a molecule derived from yeast), the company fed it to rats, then killed and dissected them. Under no circumstances was it ok for Impossible Foods to test on and then kill those animals. FDA approval was not legally necessary and given that it is made from yeast fermentation and is an essential molecule found in every living animal and plant, its safety was never in doubt.

As more and more problematic information about the production practices of even plant-based foods have started to come to light in recent years, such as the use of migratory bees to pollinate some crops, our family has increasingly struggled with what it means to make the most humane and ethical food choices possible.

In the case of the Impossible Burger, it has the potential to reduce the number of animals killed significantly and we struggled with whether it is ethical to eat something that resulted in harm to animals in the past but will not result in harm in the future. This debate has made for some very animated and fascinating dinner conversation with our son who is studying philosophy and public policy in college, and led to the creation of a flowchart we call “The Consequentialist Guide to Plant-Based Eating,” which is very much a work in progress in need of “crowd-sourcing.” I am going to share it in an upcoming post and ask for criticisms, comments, and suggestions. I hope you participate as our goal is to make the best possible choices in order to incentivize and reward non-violent behavior towards animals.

Eating at Companies like Burger King
Burger King selling these burgers makes vegan food more appealing, more widely available, and more mainstream and such changes can only serve to further the welfare of animals and are, after all, absolutely essential to more widespread veganism. First, because one of the most common reasons people fall off the vegan wagon, or don’t even try it in the first place, is because of the inconvenience. That is become less of a problem as ubiquitous restaurant chains like Red Robin, White Castle, Shake Shack, Bareburger, and Burger King add plant-based options. As I predicated in All American Vegan, my cookbook, if you make it easy and convenient for people to choose plant-based options, more people will.

Second, changing society in the profound and monumental way in which we vegans seek to do so is an incremental process that must methodically build a new vegan infrastructure to replace an old one based on animal killing and exploitation. And that will never happen overnight. As we are discovering, that can mean having some strange and unexpected bedfellows working by your side. Remember: as the vegan aisle gets larger; the butcher’s aisle gets smaller. We see this first hand in terms of dairy vs. plant-based milks. Once chains like Starbucks began carrying soymilk, its popularity grew. Conversely, cow’s milk sales declined. The industry, in fact, lost another billion in sales in 2018 to plant-based milks.

And here’s more good news for animals: A global food industry research firm is predicting that in the next 20 years, 60% of the world’s meat will NOT come from slaughtered animals. Instead, it will come from plant-based meat analogues and meat grown in labs from cultured cells. That will spare tens, if not hundreds, of billions of animals every year from a brutal life and untimely death.

For animals, the future looks brighter and brighter.

See you at the drive thru’.


Have a comment? Join the discussion by  clicking here.