November 29, 2016 Jen Maltby

The Vegetarian Dilemma, An Open Letter to Fast Food

Source: https://www.mcdonalds.com

Source: https://www.mcdonalds.com

Allow me to start by telling you a little bit about myself:

I have been a vegetarian for the better part of 20 years; a lacto-ovo vegetarian to be exact which means I still enjoy dairy products (read: CHEESE) and eggs (with CHEESE).

I won’t belabor my reasons for choosing this diet but suffice it to say that it has worked for my health, my heart, and head for years and I have never felt a real burning motivation to go back to meat.

That said, there are still some things I miss that may (or may not) surprise you. Topping the list: A Big Mac, followed quickly by a Burger King Chicken Sandwich

Two things you may note about this list:

  • My meat-eating palate has clearly never been entirely sophisticated
  • Fast food or quick service restaurants (QSRs) provided me with crave-able meat options that have stuck in my brain for two decades

Sadly, though, not only do I never visit fast food restaurants anymore, neither does anyone in my family as the lack of crave-worthy veggie options makes mine a veto vote whenever my kids want to hit the local drive through.

Putting my own story aside for a minute, I present a few things to consider:

“98% of Americans who don’t identify as vegetarians or vegans say they are attracted to the cuisine for it’s health and environmental benefits.” (QSR Magazine)

According to Mintel, 61% of consumers say they enjoy menu items that heavily feature vegetables.

Today, depending on the source you read the number of vegetarians is between 3 and 7 percent of the total U.S. population.

Longtime leaders in the fast food industry have seen steady declines in their business in the last 5 years and are looking high and low for ways to turn that trend around.

Experts in the fast food category say “that offering vegetarian options can increase the likelihood that meat-eating customers will come to your chain” as they are currently being held back by the vegetarians in their lives. (Business Insider)

So is the answer to the woes of the fast food world as simple as throwing veggie burgers on every menu so that folks like me head in droves back to their local Mickey D’s or Burger King?

I think not. Industry giants like Burger King, Wendy’s, White Castle, and McDonald’s either currently offer or have experimented with veggie burger options here in the United States and it hasn’t made any real difference. They have even upped their salad and fruit and veggie side dish offerings, still to no avail, and here is why IMHO:

Ick.

Have you tried this stuff? It is not crave-worthy. It is not a Big Mac. It is not a Chicken Sandwich. And if it’s not as good as those, what’s the point, anyway? So what’s a self-respecting QSR to do to get the every growing veggie-loving universe back in their doors (and their meat loving friends by extension)?

I think it starts with re-thinking the idea of vegetarian options. We don’t just want salads and cardboard tasting veggie options meant to hastily replace past favorites. We want you to do what you do best – make us something that we will think about for the next 20 years because it is just that good. Make us something that we will want whether we eat meat or not. Make us something that makes us feel like you really want us as customers and value our taste buds as much as you do your meat-loving consumers.

If you can do that with your vegetarian options not only will you make me a very happy customer again, but you will also make my kids happy because mom will finally not veto that trip to the drive through. And even more than that, it will show me that you care enough to get to know who I am and meet (not meat!) me where I am today.

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