McDonalds goes veggie (and more meat-free treats)

Posted on September 4, 2012

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That chicken is looking at you

Committed carnivores will turn their snouts up at veggie burgers. You can show them the most delightful spinach and chickpea creation and they will throw it back in your face, lamenting the lack of greasy goodness spilling from it. So why would one of the biggest burger fiends in the world go vegetarian?

There’s no need to panic, people. You’ll still be able to grab a something-% beef creation from McDonald’s across the UK. But, as reported in the FT, the fast food firm will be opening its first fully vegetarian restaurants in two Indian pilgrimage destinations: Amritsar, where the holiest site of the Sikh faith – the Golden Temple – is located, and Katra, the small town from which many pilgrims visit the mountain shrine of Vaisho Devi.

McDonald’s outlets in India already eschew beef, a nod to the Hindu view of cows as deities, choosing to limit its meat-based menu to chicken. Its menu selection is somewhat different to the Western mainstay: patrons can munch on a McSpicy Paneer (made from traditional Indian cheese), a McAloo Tikki (made from potatoes) or a McEgg (made from, well, egg). The new restaurants will include existing vegetarian options and potentially develop more.

Is this move respectful of the countries McDonald’s is operating in, or is it just a shamefaced way to try to make a profit? If it didn’t alter its approach in India and other countries, it would likely find its success very limited. But McDonalds was built on its burger, so some might argue altering its raison d’être takes away from what it really is.

That said, it’s not the only fast food chain to have changed its approach to fit its surroundings. When I moved to Tooting in south London, I was impressed by the number of late-night food venues championing their Halal status on their front windows. And considering the number of fried chicken joints in Tooting, that’s an awful lot.

They’re not the only ones pandering to the huge Muslim community in my local area. The Subway uses only Halal meats, swapping ham for turkey ham and bacon for turkey rashers. (And for those interested, it doesn’t really taste that different.) I’m surprised not to see Tooting on KFC’s list of Halal trial areas, but there are plenty of other choices for chicken-lovers.

On the one hand, you could say it is unfair to exclude a whole community from “enjoying” the food from these places based on their religious or cultural beliefs. On the other hand, you might argue these companies are just being savvy and recognise that, to rack up the sales, they have to be sensitive to where they’re pitching. Dominoes India, for example, lists its veggie menu as default before its meaty one. And most food in America is ten times the size and includes ten times the sugar as UK dishes. It’s simply a matter of taste.

Image from meganpru‘s Flickr photostream.

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Posted in: cuisine