What's the Beef with Vegan Options?

Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock (wouldn’t blame you, the world’s a scary place), you probably know that so far, 2020 has been a pretty big year for veganism. And it’s only been like a week.

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I’m a sucker for a good pun.

Greggs launched their vegan ‘steak bake’ (which people actually queued for, get a life like), KFC have added a vegan burger to their menu, and Boojum have announced a new meat-free filling with promises of more plant-based alternatives to come. Costa have also announced that their coconut, almond and soya milk options are now free of charge. Yepa. Subway and McDonald’s have also added vegan-friendly items to their menus. Maybe Burger King have too, I don’t know and can’t be bothered Googling it, to be honest.

These vegan additions have for obvious reasons, got a lot of praise, good publicity and were welcomed by most people.

Most people.

Basically, as well as all the support and positive messages for these companies and what they’re doing, some people aren’t too happy. Wouldn’t be like them!!

Anyway, one of the big criticisms was that vegan and meat-free products only ever seem to have meat types or connotations in the name. I.E – Vegan sausage roll. Vegan Steak Bake. Quorn nuggets etcetc.

To be fair, I think this is a valid point. I never really got the whole ‘fake meat’ thing, because, surely, the whole point is to not eat meat? Like if you don’t support or like the meat industry, why eat things that are designed to taste and look identical to meat? I don’t know, I just never got the whole Quorn thing, I guess.

But yeah, people were calling out Greggs and the likes for supposedly ‘catering for vegans’ by launching products which typically go against the whole principle of being vegan. Fair enough, like. Why launch fake steak bakes instead of nice sweet potato or lentil pastries instead? What if people don’t like or want to support meat in any way?

Another pointed-out issue was that if vegans were to buy products from these brands, they’re supporting the meat industry by giving money to companies who use a hell of a lot of meat. So like, if you buy from them and give them money, then they’ll get bigger, grow, open new outlets and then use more meat, so more animals will die. 

Which is also pretty fair when you think about it. Their point is, why not give your money to businesses whose policies and practices reflect veganism, rather than just sell a soya sausage roll or fake chicken burger? We’ve all seen those HORRIFYING videos about KFC and McDonald’s *shudders*.

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But, what if these meat-free additions aren’t just for vegans? Imagine that?! What if they’re for regular meat-eaters who simply want to cut down on their intake, too? What if these “steak bakes” (better name would be ‘fake bake’ but SURE) were targeted at people who eat  steak bakes? Ground-breaking, I know.

Obviously, the whole “why only make vegan options that resemble meat instead of actual vegan options?” and the “supporting companies that use an excessive amount of meat” things are valid points. As I so very well demonstrated, don’t ya think?

But, companies shouldn’t be getting grief for adding meatless alternatives to their menu. At least they’re making some difference and giving people a choice. Vegan sausage rolls are likely aimed at people who actually LIKE sausage rolls (aka: weirdos); it’s not to try to convert everyone to start eating them because they’ve got soya in them.

If you don’t like the meat version and eat them on a regular basis, chances are, you won’t like the vegan one either. Because they are literally designed to taste the same. Do you see the point here?

These companies that use A LOT of meat, are producing more products that are meat-free, so the companies are in theory using less meat. So, isn’t that a good thing? The whole “vegan” label puts people off actually eating less or no meat/dairy. This way, people aren’t too committed and can enjoy the stodgy food even more knowing that animals weren’t harmed in the making of it. Commitment-phobes, REJOICE.

Anyway, that’s this week’s rant over. Moral of the story: ADD MORE SWEET POTATO AND LENTIL OPTIONS, THANKU BYE. 

“Would You Like Insulin with That?”

We’ve all heard those weekly BBC reports about the obesity epidemic, and what steps we as consumers can take to eat a balanced diet and be healthy. We’re told to read labels, use portion control and make swaps for ‘lighter’, ‘low salt’ or ‘low sugar’ options. It’s easy for us to do this because companies ~have to~ display nutritional information on the packaging and use things like the ‘traffic light’ system. They also tell you in teeny tiny writing how big a portion is or how many servings there are of the product,  even though it’s normally something ridiculous like 7 smarties.

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Food manufacturers give consumers the information to ’empower’ us, and we’re told how to use it to make informed decisions about food. Seems fair – they take some steps and so do we. But, what about eating establishments? Why don’t they have to disclose the nutritional content of their food? But how are we meant to make healthy and informed choices if there’s no information to, ya know, inform us?  Like yeah, you know what you ordered, but what are you actually eating? A BLT you get in a café isn’t that different to a shop bought one, except the bread’s less stale; and a shop bought lasagne’s pretty similar to one you buy in a pub, they’re both equally nasty. So why should one have to publish the nutritional content and not the other?

Yeah, companies like McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s and Nando’s have nutritional information about their products available online, but 1) people don’t know they’re there and 2) you have to go looking for them. If I’m in Tesco picking up a meal deal (or Boots if I’m feeling fancy), I don’t have to go online and compare my options in advance, I can quickly pick up two sandwiches, read the labels and compare the wee traffic lights. And I can do it in about 20 seconds. I can make an informed decision about what I eat in 20 seconds. Go me. So why, if I’m sitting in a restaurant, should I have to go online and research whether or not the nutritional information’s available, and if it is, then sit and check it while the waiter’s standing there with their pen and paper and my friends have already ordered and are glaring at me? Sorry, guys.

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Reading the McDonald’s nutritional info

If the information’s available online, then companies know consumers can read it and see how (un)healthy their food is, so why not just put it on the menu? It’s probably just a wee tick-box exercise so they can say, “We want to help customers make healthy choices so are uber transparent about our products’ nutritional content”. Basically, they want to have the information available, but don’t really want people to read it. I mean, they probably don’t want to shout out about the fact their burgers have 850 calories and 120% of your sat fat allowance for the day. Hmm, better make mine a diet coke, then.

But I suppose, they don’t want to tell us the truth any more than we want to hear it. Ignorance is bliss. It’s easier to claim we don’t realise how unhealthy food is and keep the blame on food companies, not ourselves – the old “it’s not my fault if I didn’t know”. Would you feel guilty about eating a pizza? Probably not. Would you feel guilty about eating a 1300 calorie pizza? Probably. If you don’t know how unhealthy something is, then you don’t have to feel bad for eating it or tell everyone that you’ll go to the gym tomorrow to “make up for it” (even though not even you believe that lie). You can eat what you want, not what you ‘should’ and play that lil game where you pretend it “probably wasn’t that bad”, I mean, potatoes are a vegetable so chips should be healthy enough, right? Right?

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People always complain that they eat healthily but can’t lose weight. But, maybe the problem isn’t what they’re eating, it’s where they’re eating. If you eat spaghetti bolognese at home, you know what’s in it so know it’s not that unhealthy. So if you order it when eating out, you might think the same. But, chances are they’re not using wholewheat pasta and lean mince like your ma does. They most likely add things which end up driving up the calories, fat and salt content. So, even if you think you’re “being good” and going for a healthier option, you mightn’t be. See, when we make things ourselves, we can tweak it to be healthier and choose what and how much we eat. But when we eat out, we can’t. We can’t ask for a ‘skinny’ curry or ask for our steak to be ‘grilled, not fried’. They’d definitely spit on it, like.

Companies might think that displaying nutritional information might put consumers off and affect business. But the thing is, people know burgers, chips and pizzas aren’t healthy. They know fast food products are full of fat and salt. And they still choose to eat it. It’s not exactly groundbreaking information that a salad has less calories than a bacon cheeseburger like. Look at Wetherspoons, a lot of their food items are over 800 calories, and they have 0 issue displaying this on their menu. They don’t deny that it’s not the healthiest because, people don’t go to Spoons for ‘low cal’ or “syn free” food. They go for jugs, and cheap, massive portions of decent food. I mean, it’s like £6 for a burger and chips, what do you expect?

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Finding out KFC isn’t healthy??

The thing is, nutritional information is displayed on store-bought products. We can see how unhealthy it is, and how small a real portion is, and what do we do? We ignore it. But the key difference is, we choose to ignore it. Consumers are given the information, and what we do with it is up to us. It’s our decision, and rightfully so. We have the option to read it if we want – and that’s a big “if”.  You might fancy a Mars bar (God knows why like, they’re horrible), but after seeing how much sugar’s in it, you might think twice and put it back on the shelf (where it belongs). Or, you might decide that it’s worth the pancreatic damage and buy it anyway. At the end of the day, we can’t control what goes in the food, but we can control whether or not we eat it.  So we should have the same option when eating out.