Is fast food vegan? Who cares?

June 14, 2009

Wow, check out this excerpt from the VRG mailing list about the KFC “Unchicken Sandwich” that we apparently have in Canada – I’m just going to paste it in in italics here without much preamble, form your own thoughts and then you can see what I think after.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) announced in June 2008 that KFC Canada would be offering a vegan mock chicken patty in 461 Prizm-owned franchised stores and some corporate-owned stores who chose to offer it. The Unchicken Sandwich is intended to be a permanent part of the menu according to Matt Prescott of PeTA. He told us that a Canadian company would be supplying KFC Canada with the patty but that the restaurants would do the battering. Prescott said that no KFC in the United States, (or anywhere else in the world), carries this product at this time.

The VRG interviewed the president of the company selling the unchicken patty to KFC Canada. He informed us that his company would be manufacturing the patty and breading it. Both the patty and the breading are all-vegetable. He stated that the bun used by KFC Canada contains milk products. He was not sure of the cooking method used by KFC Canada, but told us that the patty could be prepared by microwave or toaster.

The VRG called KFC Canada and was told by Rick, a customer service representative, to call its Public Relations firm because he had no information about the Unchicken Sandwich.

Yvonne, A PR representative for KFC Canada, did confirm for us that the patty in the Unchicken Sandwich is all-vegetable. She wasn’t sure about the breading ingredients or who prepares the breading and how, but told us that she would ask KFC Canada and get back to us.

Yvonne told us that the sandwich can be ordered without mayonnaise. She could not confirm whether the bun contains milk products, whether the patty could be ordered without the bun, or with an all-vegetable bun (or even if there were any at KFC Canada used with other sandwiches). She also did not know about the cooking method of the patty (whether it was microwaved or cooked in oil along with meat products).

In January 2009, the last time that we spoke with Yvonne, she reiterated what PeTA told us: the Unchicken Sandwich is offered in over four hundred restaurants throughout Canada, mostly Prizm-franchised restaurants and in some of the corporate-owned restaurants as well. Yvonne could not say that the product is considered a permanent menu item. She said that only permanent menu items are listed on the website and acknowledged that the Unchicken Sandwich is not listed there.

The VRG has called the PR firm several times since July 2008, always with the same questions. We are always told that no further information is available because KFC Canada is not responding to their emails requesting more information.

OK, I’m back. I couldn’t help but read this with a sense of nostalgia. I’ve tried chasing down ingredients and processing information before from companies and this is often how it goes. It’s what inspired me to post the ingredients list is dead and why we aim to supply multiple reader-submitted responses for each product on Barnivore, our vegan alcohol directory.

At the end of the day, the average big company doesn’t care about your dietary (or other) preferences. The political games between marketing, product development, and logistics teams take up about 95% of the average day, and they’re a much more entertaining way to fill up the 40 hours a week needed to qualify for a paycheck. There are good people in every company, and if you phrase the question right, of course they want to make a difference and bring cool things to the people, but the organizational structure makes it hard for that intent to show through.

There was a time in my life where I would have thought we as vegans had a responsibility to purchase crap from companies that was remotely vegan to “prove there was a market.” I now believe that these are transition foods that are being purchased by people who are curious about different diets, and they outnumber vegans by a wide margin. They’re the ones who are going to cause a product to sink or swim, and you know what? They’re going to be a better judge of whether or not the product is actually any good, because that’s what they’re going to care about. “Supporting the market” is the reason we still have crappy veggie burgers with peas and corn in them (I know, it’s nice to have something that doesn’t look like meat, but calling those things burgers makes us an easy target for mockery from just about everyone else.)

I’m glad KFC’s doing some experiments in new markets. Frankly, they’re going to have to do more of this, because we’re going to win eventually, dammit. However, I don’t feel like I have to be a part of this one. Is the Unchicken sandwich vegan or even vegetarian? I don’t personally care. Is it going to be the first stepping stone for an omnivore to make the transition to a plant-based diet? To me, that’s a much more interesting conversation that doesn’t require accurate information from any food producer.

(By the way, if you didn’t get the VRG report directly from them in your inbox, you should send an email to listserv@listserv.aol.com with the following message: SUB VRG-News {your first and last name} (without the {} brackets.) They send out a ton of interesting stuff once a month, and it’s well worth your attention. I love how old school VRG is with their aol.com list – it’s not a sign that they’re behind the times; it’s more like they’ve got an institution with ancient marble columns while their peers work out of glass skyscrapers. History, eh?)

Photo swiped from Consumerist‘s post about the same topic. They got it from Getty.

Previous post:

Next post: