Burger King’s not so vegan whopper shows what happens when we believe big corporate shares our values

Like Marks and Spencer’s LGBT+ sandwich, or Pepsi’s watered-down version of Black Lives Matter, these businesses have little interest in changing society, only the profit they can milk out of it

Chas Newkey-Burden
Wednesday 15 April 2020 15:21 BST
Burger King's vegetarian 'Impossible Whopper' burger cooked on same grill as meat

Burger King is not a friend of the vegans. It may seem like that’s stating the bleeding obvious but you’d be surprised how many plant-munchers think that animal-slaughtering restaurant chains are our allies.

The fast-food giant is on the naughty step today: the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned it from showing ads that wrongly implied that its Rebel Whopper, which contains egg and is cooked alongside meat, is vegan.

The ASA ruled that the promotion’s “green colour palette,” and its timing to coincide with the annual Veganuary cash-in, gave the impression that the product was suitable for vegans.

The ads had a “Vegetarian Butcher” logo and, on Twitter, the company described the product as “plant-based”.

This isn’t the first time a big corporate brand has fooled vegans. When restaurant chains launch a "plant-based" product, a lot of vegans believe that if we buy enough of them, we will have “shown the demand” and animal slaughter will simply magically end.

But this is a fairy tale: vegan talk of “ethical capitalism” is as oxymoronic as meat-eaters’ claims of “humane slaughter”.

Burger King bosses in the US admit that their Impossible Whopper isn’t changing eating habits of existing customers – it’s just bringing in new ones. “We’re not seeing guests swap the original Whopper for the Impossible Whopper. We’re seeing that it’s attracting new guests,” revealed CEO José Cil. In other words, meat-eaters continue to buy beef burgers and still account for practically all of Burger King’s profits. It’s just that vegans have recently joined the party.

Some vegans argue that plant-based imitations of meat will turn more people vegan. And in a few cases they might – but they won’t keep them vegan. For that, people need to make the selfless philosophical shift that animals are not ours to exploit and abuse. Having their taste buds tickled won’t change their hearts.

From McDonalds’ to KFC, all the fast-food giants have launched their own "vegan" gimmicks, each of which arguably prop up their animal-slaughtering operations. The bosses are probably laughing all the way to the bank.

And, as they laugh, the owners of small, independent, vegan businesses weep. They can’t begin to compete with the marketing budgets of these huge chains, so they watch broken-hearted as vegans queue up to hand their money to animal killers.

It’s sad that so many vegans are proud to hand over their money to big companies, yet slow to support animal sanctuaries.

It’s easy to feel flattered by big chains when they announce a vegan menu but we need to decide whether we are vegan for the animals or vegan for the consumerism. As the Unoffensive Animal group put it: "We're not here to make the vegan food aisles bigger, this is about animal liberation."

Corporates have little interest in the changing values of our society, only the profit they can milk out of it. Marks & Spencer didn’t launch its LGBT+ sandwich to advance gay rights. When Pepsi used the imagery of the Black Lives Matter protests, it wasn’t aiming to overturn systemic racism.

These stunts are all just about fooling more people into parting with their cash. For vegans, it should be very simple: cow-killers are not friends of animals, so they aren’t friends of ours.

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