Veganism has grown so much over the past few years. By 2020, plant-based meats have undergone considerable development and have even infiltrated the fast-food market in the UK.
Big fast-food brands in the UK such as Leon, KFC, McDonald’s, and Burger King have all launched vegan food items as part of their menus. But many of these releases have come under scrutiny due to company “veganwashing” and the realisation that many of the plant-based foods are cooked on the same grills and even in the same oil as animal products.
This article hopes to provide some clarity on which items vegans can order from the menu and addresses some of the moral dilemmas behind the questions: is fast food vegan and should we eat at fast-food restaurants?
All of the allergen and cooking information has been gathered from the fast-food brands’ websites and via direct communication with their marketing teams. It is correct as of 2020.
What Can Vegans Eat at Fast-Food Restaurants?
For the purpose of creating a quick go-to list, here are some of the plant-based fast-food items you can eat at a few popular chain restaurants in the UK (please read further on for more information on how to ensure these items are suitable for vegans):
Vegan Fast Food at Leon UK
- Meatless Meatballs
- LOVe Burger (order with a vegan bun)
- Ruby’s Rose & Pistachio and Chocolate Chai-Based Baked Doughnuts
- Ruby’s PB & J brownie
- Ruby’s Mini Red Velvet and Raspberry Ripple Cupcakes
- Brazilian Black Bean
- Lentil Masala
- Jack Wings
- Crushed Pea Salad
- Baked Fries
- Fresh Slaw
- Ruby Red Porridge with Cashew Milk
- Chipotle and Avocado Burger
- Coconut, Jackfruit, and Lime Curry
- Coco Whip Soft Serve (all four flavours)
Check out Leon’s allergen information here.
Leon has always had plant-based options available on its menu and continues to expand on these. Leon’s Foodie Fact Sheet is very thorough and the brand’s allergen and food separation procedures seem to be the best out of the four companies listed in this article.
Vegan Fast Food at McDonald’s UK
- French Fries*
- The Spicy Veggie One*
- Hash Brown*
- Vegetable Deluxe* (without Sandwich Sauce)
- Carrot Bag*
- Side Salad*
- Balsamic Dressing*
- Toasted Bagel* (with Flora Original and Strawberry Jam)
- Hot Apple Pie*
- Fruit Bag*
*These items are “vegan-friendly” rather than certified vegan, meaning that they may have come into contact with animal products. Nevertheless, fried foods are cooked separately to animal products, in their own non-hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Check out McDonald’s allergen menu here.
Vegan Fast Food at Burger King UK
- Rebel Whopper* (without mayonnaise)
- French Fries*
- Hash Browns*
- Garden Side Salad & Balsamic Dressing (without Cheese or Croutons***)
- Apple Slices
- Onion Rings*
- Kid’s Veggie Burger**
*As of 2020, all of the fried food items are cooked in the same oil or on the same grill as animal products, apart from the Kid’s Veggie Burger.
**Burger King confirms that this is cooked separately to meat and fish.
***There is no mention of croutons on the allergen menu, so these are not guaranteed to be vegan.
Check out Burger King’s allergen menu here.
Burger King recently got into trouble after its misleading advertising campaign, which labelled its Rebel Whopper as 100% plant-based. Unfortunately, unless otherwise requested, this burger is cooked in the same oil as the meat products.
Vegan Fast Food at KFC UK
- Vegan Burger (even the mayonnaise is vegan and the burger is cooked separately to animal products)
- BBQ Beans
- Corn Cobette
- Curry Sauce
- French Fries*
- Hash Browns*
*Their fries and hash browns are cooked in the same oil as popcorn chicken
Check out KFC’s allergen menu here.
They also have a very handy FAQ page for vegans.
Is Fast Food Cooked in the Same Oil as Animal Products (in the UK)?
Some fast-food restaurants in the UK cook vegetarian and vegan items separately to meat and fish, whereas others do not. Unfortunately, it is likely that three of the corporate brands we have mentioned above cook vegan products alongside vegetarian products and therefore will be cross-contaminated with eggs and dairy.
Leon prepares and cooks all of its vegan products separately to animal products. Their staff are trained to double check dietary requirements and allergies and always ask customers whenever they take an order.
KFC has trained its staff to handle and cook all of their vegan and vegetarian labelled foods separately. These include the vegan burger, BBQ beans, and corn cobettes. But the french fries and hash browns are cooked in the same oil as the meat.
McDonald’s prepares its vegan-friendly products separately and cooks them in different oil from animal products. This includes all of the fried items listed above.
Burger King cooks all of its plant-based fast food in the same oil as animal products, apart from the Kid’s Veggie Burger. Some restaurants may cook the burger separately upon request.
Check out our article on Are Vegan Meat Alternatives Sustainable?
Are McDonald’s Fries Vegan in the UK, 2020?
McDonald’s UK only has one certified vegan item on its menu and it’s not the french fries. Whilst they are cooked in separate oil from animal products, the fast-food restaurant states that there is a possibility of cross-contamination.
It’s worth mentioning that the french fries made in McDonald’s US stores use beef seasoning and are therefore definitely not vegan.
What About Palm Oil?
Palm oil is used in some of the vegan fast-food products that have been mentioned, such as the hot apple pie at McDonald’s. This vegetable oil is 100% plant-based but is a bit of a moot point for vegans due to the detrimental effects the crop can have on wildlife habitats.
The Moral Dilemma: Should Vegans Eat at Fast-Food Restaurants?
According to José Cil, the CEO of Burger King’s parent company, the introduction of the Impossible Whopper in the US did not see a decrease in beefburger sales and, instead, led to an increase in new customers visiting the brand’s stores.
Additionally, the KFC in Atlanta experienced long queues and sold out in five hours after launching their Beyond Chicken last year. Do we really want to be giving companies like these more money?
Not all fast-food chains are as notoriously bad for the environment and animal welfare as Burger King and KFC though. Some brands, such as Leon, have less of an impact and endeavour to be more sustainable by continually expanding their plant-based menu. Nevertheless, animal products still make up the greater portion of all of these brands’ menus.
Despite all of this, some vegans would argue that the appearance of vegan fast food within chain restaurants will encourage meat-eaters to try a more flexitarian approach (whether this actually makes a difference remains to be seen). What’s more, it at least gives vegans the option of something plant-based if they are persuaded to eat at fast-food chains with non-vegan friends.
So, in answer to the question, whether or not vegans should eat at fast-food restaurants is ultimately a very personal decision. I’ll let you decide.
Check out these other UK fast-food brands that offer vegan options.