Are you ready for the McPlant Burger? How vegan fast food is taking over the world

·4-min read
A McDonald's
A McDonald's "PLT" burger with a Beyond Meat plant-based patty. (Reuters)

Choosing the vegan option used to mean half an hour of weary explaining, followed by a plate of lettuce and tomato. And if you wanted fast food, forget it - the best option was fries cooked in beef dripping.

Thankfully, times have changed dramatically, and the rise in veganism, driven by climate fears, animal rights, documentaries such as Cowspiracy and celebrity advocates including Elle McPherson, Joaquin Phoenix and Kristen Bell, means there's never been so much choice.

Now, fast food outlets are leaping onto the bandwagon too. Several UK-based chains have offered vegan menu items for a few years now, with nationwide bakery Greggs causing a social media meltdown due to their vegan sausage roll launch (the one Piers Morgan performatively spat out).

Vegan sausage rolls and Steak Bakes are seen for sale in a Greggs bakery near Manchester, Britain January 8, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble
Vegan sausage rolls are flying off the shelves. (REUTERS/Phil Noble)

Debate was heated, but the final verdict was a big thumbs up. You don't have to be vegan to enjoy plant-based options, either. Advocates argue that adding more meat and dairy-free choices to your diet means both the planet and your health benefit. 

Now the big boys are on board, too. After experimenting with various plant-based offerings (some more successful than others- veggie dippers were not widely welcomed) McDonalds has finally cracked the vegan burger.

As of today, the new McPlant burger will be available in Midlands branches, and the chain plans to roll it out to further stores stores in October, ensuring it's available nationwide in time for Veganuary. 

The burger offers a Beyond Meat patty, with the familiar gherkins, tomato, lettuce, ketchup and a vegan burger sauce in a sesame seed bun, and costs £3.49 or £4.89 with chips and a drink.

Watch: Watch Vicky Pattison try all the new vegan fast food

It's bound to be a winner. But are chains just jumping on the trend, without really understanding the aims of plant-based eating? Or is more options a godsend - even if they're not the healthiest?

"Vegan food isn't always healthier so people still need to be aware of what is in the food they eat," says nutritionist Anna Mapson of Goodness Me Nutrition.

"When processed food is labelled vegan or gluten free, people are more likely to believe it's healthier, and may eat more. Eating a tub of vegan ice cream is still high in fats, as are some meat substitutes," she adds. But it's not a no.

"The overall diet pattern is more important than one food. The context in which a particular food is consumed makes a difference. Eating ice cream every day is different to eating it once in a while, vegan or not."

Read more: Replacing meat and dairy with vegan alternatives cuts risk of heart disease by third, study finds

A young woman drinks green smoothies and eats a burger in a vegan fast food restaurant
No, but it's healthy, honest! (Getty Images)

"Recent research has shown swapping meat for plant based alternatives can increase diversity in your gut health which is associated with improved health outcomes," says Mapson. "Burgers and sausages made of pea or soya protein are delivering more fibre which can help with weight loss and improved gut health."

But while some vegans welcome the choice, others are ambivalent.

"These brands are definitely jumping on the band wagon," says Julie Arthur, who runs chocolate business Annie's Vegan Treats. "They are cashing in on veganism, and often, their ethics certainly aren't in line with sustainability, no matter how much they claim otherwise."

"They are also putting small indies out of business because the little traders struggle to keep up."

Hastings, United Kingdom - July 31 2020:  The frontage of Caffe Nero on Queens Road
Many vegans are thrilled more options are available on the go. (Getty Images)

Read more: Vegan doctors create UK's first plant-based healthcare service

Committed vegan and founder of ethical content consultancy Little Green Duck Katie Skelton adds, 

"It's a pretty hot topic in the vegan groups online, and one that divides people massively. 

"Some think it's just large corporations profiting from a mega-trend, and others believe that the more plant-based options there are out there in mainstream outlets, the more likely a lifelong meat-eater is to give them a try and perhaps reduce their meat intake as a result."

So if you're convinced, what are the options?

Here's just some of the latest fast food menu offerings for vegans and plant-lovers:

Pizza Hut:

Vegan stuffed-crust pizza

Margherita with vegan cheese

BBQ Jack 'N' ch**se (with jackfruit)

Pepperphoni (with vegan 'meat)

Southern fried nuggets

Vegan caramel cheesecake

Nando's

Supergreen salad pitta

Sweet potato and butternut pitta

Chargrilled veg

Chips

(Remember to order with no mayo)

Papa John's

Vegan sausage and pepperoni pizza

Any pizza with vegan cheese

Sheese potato tots

Cauli wings

Sheese and marmite scrolls

Cinnamon scrolls with vanilla

Subway

Plant patty 

TLC (Tastes Like Chicken)

Meatless Meatball Marinara

Caffe Nero

Sweet Potato Falafel & Houmous Wrap

Sundried Tomato & Pesto Tostati. 

Apple and Blackcurrant Crumble  

Greggs

Vegan sausage roll

Vegan sausage, bean and ‘cheeze’ melt

Vegan sausage bap 

Vegan ham and cheese baguette 

Burger King

Vegan Royale: plant-based ‘chicken’ fillet from The Vegetarian Butcher 

Vegan Bean Burger 

All menu items are subject to change, and certain items may not be available.

Watch: Impossible Foods 'now going after the pig' with sausage rollout

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