At the end of 2020, Ian Borden, International President of McDonald’s, announced that the fast food chain would be introducing a proprietary plant-based burger called the “McPlant” in 2021. And here we are now, almost in October, and the McPlant is still nowhere to be found on U.S. menus. To bastardize a slogan from another fast food chain (that actually offers a veggie burger), where’s the (fake) beef?
As the world crumbles or drowns or burns around us, McDonald’s is steadily rolling out new initiatives to curb its carbon footprint and keep us spending money, or whatever will count as currency after the fall of civilization, at its restaurants. In 2018, its corporate office unveiled an ambitious plan to reduce emissions by 36 percent by 2030, and the chain is slowly moving away from using the ocean-choking single-use plastic, including its Happy Meal toys, which it helped popularize across the fast-food industry. McDonald’s also purports to be working toward a more sustainable model for beef production, creating a “global network of innovative farms to discover and trial new and cutting-edge practices, like rotational grazing practices,” as per the corporate-issued beef sustainability report.
But the only way to even begin to make up for the Golden Arches’ contributions to the destruction of the Amazon and the overall impact its vast meat production has on the planet would be to serve as little beef as possible.
As Tim Schwab reported for the Counter in 2018:
As McDonald’s trumpets the “science” surrounding its greenhouse gas mitigation plan, the company increasingly has to contend with a body of science that suggests many of us need to reduce our beef consumption. This prescription is coming not just from public-health experts but also from climate scientists, who point to the high environmental costs of beef production.
Considering the influence of the American beef lobby and our society’s attachment to red meat, the chance of U.S. fast food restaurants abandoning beef altogether is negligible. But introducing a plant-based burger to McDonald’s menus would at least have some tangible positive effects, especially when you consider that McDonald’s is the biggest buyer of beef in the world and maybe — just maybe — the company could reduce its own beef demand.
McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with cheese happens to be the perfect vehicle for a plant-based patty: Its appeal has never relied on the taste of beef. It’s all about the patty’s neutral texture and saltiness, as complimented by the comforting blandness of half-melted American cheese, the sharp zing of pickles and mustard, and a swirl of ketchup. It is comfort food — nothing particularly remarkable or special about it — so swap in a boring brown plant-based patty for boring brown beef and I honestly doubt most people would detect a difference.
And just so you don’t think I’m in this purely because I want to take beef away from other people so I don’t have to live on sweltering planet where the seasons on rotation are “mega-drought,” “once-in-a-century flooding on annual basis,” and “continent-sweeping blizzard,” I also want a plant-based burger on U.S. menus because selfishly I want to eat it. When I was a vegetarian as a kid, the only thing I can remember ordering on those rare post-dance rehearsal trips through the McDonald’s drive-thru were french fries and ice cream. But as an adult who at least pretends I care about ingesting protein, I need more. I need an entire sandwich.
Sure, one could argue that the responsible move is to simply forego McDonald’s in favor of somewhere that does offer a plant-based or veggie alternative and isn’t a terrible corporation. But sometimes McDonald’s is the only option, especially if you’re living in a food deserts or the suburbs or are traveling and it’s the only place open at JFK airport at 11pm. Or maybe you — if you are, in fact, me — married someone with the world’s stupidest Instagram account devoted to junk food and they make you stop at fast food restaurants as “research,” and ordering a McDonald’s sandwich is much cheaper than getting a divorce. I don’t judge! Besides, preaching personal responsibility over corporate responsibility is how businesses like McDonald’s have gotten away with poisoning the Earth for so long.
The fast food industry cannot undo the damage it’s done to our planet, but it can start doing better now. One big step in the right direction would be hurrying up with that goddamn veggie burger.