Conspicuously absent from the melee of fast-food chains hurling subtweets and halfhearted clapbacks at each other last week in the wake of the nation’s Popeyes’ chicken sandwich mania was KFC, arguably the brand with the biggest stake in whether or not everyone in the U.S. is suddenly gaga for mass-produced fried chicken.
Maybe that’s because KFC was too busy rolling out a product that is, in a way, the inverse of Popeyes’ new star: Beyond Fried Chicken, a plant-based fried “poultry” made in partnership with fake-meat startup Beyond Meat. Starting Tuesday, the faux fried chicken will be available from just one location — a KFC in Smyrna, Ga., northwest of Atlanta — in the form of nuggets or boneless wings, as the chain decides whether or not to broaden the test or to release Beyond Fried Chicken nationwide.
Quick-service chains like Burger King, White Castle, and Subway have embraced plant-based meat in recent years, but KFC’s partnership with Beyond Meat marks the first time a national fast-food chain has introduced plant-based chicken in the U.S. (Beyond Meat’s first product was actually vegan chicken strips, but the company quietly discontinued the product earlier this year after deciding the frozen strips weren’t up to standard.)
Fast-food chicken like McDonald’s McNuggets have long been dogged by allegations that they’re less real meat than dreaded pink slime, so one could argue that lab-created fake chicken delivers more or less the same experience as their actual, factory-farmed sistren. As long as the hunk of “meat” is seasoned, dredged, and deep fried to golden craggy perfection, who’s to tell the difference?
So while Popeyes, Chick-fil-A, and Wendy’s tear each other apart over who has the best chicken sandwich in the Twitter arena, the shots KFC has chosen to fire are … made of plant protein, which we can at least agree is much less violent, both to animals and our sensibilities that are weary of being bombarded with brand-crafted sandwich jokes. Let the next battle of the culture wars begin.