Is It Ethical for Vegans to Promote Burger King?

Every Thursday, one of my favorite vegan activists, Jake Conroy, releases a YouTube video as part of his Three Minute Thursdays series.

This week, among other things, he discussed Burger King’s Impossible Whopper. On the surface, it looks like a major leap forward for veganism – one of the world’s biggest burger chains introducing a vegan patty. But Jake has some questions for us.

First, while an average meal at Burger King costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 dollars, a meal with the Impossible Whopper costs $10. And while Burger King has heralded the popularity of the Impossible Whopper, they’ve stated that sales of the beef version have also increased along with it. So, are vegans touting Burger King giving them more profits, more attention, more customers – for them to actually harm even more animals?

Jake also points out that the Impossible Whopper is only available for a limited time. This was not something I’d read from any vegan outlets so I looked it up and Jake’s right. This makes me wonder: Could this all just be a publicity stunt? And if so, should we be helping them?

I was one of the first people to fire up my laptop and sing the praises of KFC when they tested their vegan chicken at one of their locations in Atlanta last week. But I have to admit it felt a little icky. I mean, let’s be real, KFC is a horrible fucking company. For years, they’ve made billions off the backs of tortured animals. It’s why PETA relentlessly campaigned against them for years (even though PETA, too, was cheering KFC on last week).

And while I want to believe that KFC testing a vegan chicken option is progress and that, much like with Burger King, it will correlate to less animals being violently slaughtered, the truth is there’s been no evidence of that – at least not yet. Even with all the press and newfound enthusiasm around plant-based eating, meat consumption per capita in the US is actually at an all-time high.

Jake’s video also made me think back to a tweet Isa Chandra Moskowitz sent out amid all the excitement over Burger King’s announcement a few weeks back. It said, “Wow if vegans promoted vegan restaurants half as much as they’re promoting Burger King right now.” And not just vegan restaurants. I’d add, what about all of the smaller vegan businesses putting their ethics to work?

So, what’s a vegan to do?

Honestly, I’m not sure. But right now, I think I land somewhere in the middle. Though I don’t feel great promoting shitty companies like Burger King and KFC, I also know that— for better or worse— we currently live in a capitalistic system and if we ever want to make a dent in the number of animals horribly abused each year by the food industry, we’ve got to get people to stop eating animal products. Part of that has to be getting major restaurant chains to start introducing more and more vegan options.

We all know the only thing big businesses care about is profits. So, if vegan menu items make it rain, these fast-food chains will continue to expand their plant-based offerings. We can only hope this will eventually result in fewer animals being raised and slaughtered – but we also need to see the receipts.

Additionally, it’s very important to remember that not everyone has easy access, or indeed any access to a vegan restaurant or a Whole Foods in their neck of the woods. So while an Impossible Whopper is a not a big deal for me living in vegan-friendly Los Angeles, it might be the only vegan menu item for someone who’s in a different part of the country. If we want more people to choose vegan meals, accessibility is key. And maybe a meat-eater who’s never even considered eating plant-based might get curious watching friends and family choose those options at their local chain restaurant. But first they gotta be there.

So, I guess we should be supportive of these massive chains that are dipping their toes in the vegan pool. But – and this is a big BUT – going back to Moskowitz’s tweet, we should be even more supportive of actual vegan businesses that are in it for more than just the money.

Companies like Burger King and KFC spend millions on PR, so they don’t really need vegan voices to add to the chorus. Smaller vegan businesses, however, need all the support they can get. So why not shout out your favorite restaurants and products on the regular, the way we’ve been so happy to post about the latest fast-food joints to start selling Impossible Burgers?

Moskowitz is right, we absolutely should.