Del Taco recently announced they would be rolling out new vegan menu items at select locations in California. Our Power editor Brandy Jensen was very excited about fake meat tacos, our Contributing Editor Drew Millard was less enthused about the prospect. Meat is murder, but is fake meat any better? Brandy and Drew discuss.
Brandy: So, recently I shared with you my extremely correct opinion that all fast food meat should be replaced by fake meat. An idea so unambiguously good only a moron would disagree. You are that moron.
Drew: Yes. Tell me why I am that moron and then I will tell you why this is not a moronic position to hold.
Brandy: Okay, here goes: factory farming is quite simply a blight both in terms of the environmental impact and, frankly, morality. Don’t get me wrong, I love shitty fast food and knowing that I am supporting an unethical regime has not yet made me stop eating it, but I think fake meat technology has sufficiently developed so as to be a very obvious way to ameliorate this harm.
Drew: I am completely in agreement with you about the fact that factory farming is evil. I once interviewed A$AP Rocky around the time he’d become a vegetarian, and he explained his lifestyle change to me in a way that I’ll never forget: “You gotta look up what they do to those fucking chickens, man.” I’m not sure that’s the exact quote, but A$AP Rocky inspired me to look up what they do to those fucking chickens, and it’s bad.
HOWEVER. I submit to you that fast food meats are only “meat” because they have not invented another category for “technically living organisms that have been genetically fucked up to the point that they don’t actually fulfill the functions of any animals, let alone the animal they’re supposed to be.” Corporations have a mandate to maximize their profits, and I suspect that if science invented a way to do away with those animal-ish being altogether and instead engineer something that looked, tasted, and smelled like actual meat, they would very quickly figure out how to scale this new meat method in a way that would simultaneously be much cheaper for them and, since regulations tend to take a while to catch up to new technologies, much more dangerous for us.
The recent wave of fast food companies introducing fake meat products, I would argue, stem from this wish to lower their production costs, and therefore should be viewed with skepticism and suspicion. Saying that all fast food meat should be fake is basically taking the handcuffs (hamcuffs?) off the Hamburglar. How does it feel to be a libertarian.
Brandy: Respectfully, I simply cannot consider “fake meat would make Burger King bad for you” a persuasive argument. Would we probably end up with new and different cancers? Sure, that seems likely, but since climate change is melting permafrost to reveal and unleash long-dead super pathogens anyways I think that on the whole doing what we can to lessen our dependence on factory farming is a smart choice. I admire your commitment to keep fucking this chicken, though.
Drew: I’m trying to consider this on a hierarchy of fucking, and in such a hierarchy, sadly, the chicken has to get fucked. Given that we’re talking about corporations here, there is by no means any guarantee that mass Impossible Burger production would be any better for the environment than the current system. And additionally, while the adverse health effects of fast food truly horrifying and utterly avoidable (both by fast food companies, though not doing factory farming, and us, through not eating fast food), it’s important to remember that people who are so-called “heavy users” of fast food — this is an extremely depressing term that Burger King uses to refer to repeat customers — are more often than not in the lower-income bracket.
If fast food companies were given a mandate to replace factory-farmed meat with fake meats — the long- and short-term health effects of which, and I cannot stress this enough, are unproven — these fast food companies would also be given, in effect, a license to experiment on poor people. I realize I’m basically making the same argument people make when trying to shoot down Medicare-for-All or the Green New Deal (“We don’t know how this will affect the market!”), but generally, corporations are bad and I do not trust them as far as I can throw them. And given that fast food corporations have more employees than I can even conceive of, I bet the entirety of one of them would be super heavy to the point where I wouldn’t even be able to pick it up, let alone throw it, especially if we’re counting all the buildings that fast food corporations own as part of the stuff I’d have to pick up.
Brandy: I’m too lazy to look it up, but there was a tweet I think about a lot that said something like “I have the diet of a child who just found $20.” This is, as the kids say, a real fucking mood. I am probably what Burger King would consider to be a “heavy user” of fast food, even though I can now afford a better diet.
But as a former user due to economic, and not merely gastronomic, considerations, I have to say I think most poor people are smart enough to know that large corporations are going to exploit them wherever possible and still weigh that against the undeniable fact that climate change is coming for them first. Sure, there are no absolute guarantees that large-scale Impossible Burger production won’t end up being worse, but I think it is far more likely it will better. Besides which, it would make me feel righteous when eating a Crunchwrap Supreme, and no beef product tastes as good as smugness feels.
Drew: Beef products, yes, but have you ever had the Chicken Supremes from Bojangles?
Brandy: I have not! As a compromise position I am willing to start with beef and phase in chicken at a later date. I am a reasonable woman.
Drew: As a compromise of my own, I would be willing to require Big Fast Food (i.e., places such as McDonald’s/Burger King/Wendy’s/Taco Bell/KFC etc., that have near-ubiquitous national presences) to go all-fake-meat-everything, while letting the smaller, more regionally specific fast food chains (such as Bojangles, In-N-Out, Cookout, Shake Shack, Roy Rogers, Del Taco, Whataburger, L&L Hawaiian Barbeque, and Sneaky Pete’s) offer both fake and real meats to fill their fast food treats. I think the real issue, to paraphrase whoever said the smart-people version of what I’m about to say, is that it’s easier to imagine a world without meat than without fast food joints. Why do you think that is? Or is it just easier for us to imagine a world without meat than without fast food joints, in part because that’s what we decided to argue about for the enjoyment of the good readers of The Outline Dot Com?
Brandy: Sorry I can’t answer your question because it just occurred to me that it’s very weird you are taking an anti-fast food position when, between the two of us, you are the one who likes weed and now I’m laughing a lot.