Plant-based diets have grown exponentially in popularity in recent years. From 2015 to 2018, there was a 600% increase in the number of people identifying as a vegan in the US alone. And writing as a vegetarian of six years, I can attest to the fact that the options available for us herbivores have dramatically increased in quality as our numbers increase.
While in the not so distant past, vegetarians (particularly vegans) would have been left hungry entering most fast food establishments, most now have a varied menu catering to their needs, but, unfortunately, the younger generation has been seemingly left behind... until now. As of today, vegetarian Happy Meals are now a thing at McDonald's.
This is how kids reacted to the new plant-based Happy Meal meal in a taste test:
And while the chain might be best known for the meat on its menu, the introduction of a vegetarian happy meal has delighted herbivores around the world. Until now, the only three Happy Meal options were chicken nuggets, a hamburger or a cheeseburger - leaving vegetarian children without the option of getting a toy with their meal.
So what exactly does a vegetarian Happy Meal contain instead? I hear you ask. A red pesto goujon wrap.
The wrap was created with the help of the Vegetarian Society and the Britmums network. They were the ones behind a panel of parents and children who were responsible for choosing the wrap's final recipe.
Yellow split peas, tomato, Arborio rice, sundried tomato pesto, tomato paste, red pepper, olive oil, herbs, and some sugar all make up the goujon in the tortilla wrap, which is appropriately served with tomato ketchup and shredded lettuce.
At this point, you're probably thinking "Hey! The wrap's vegan too!" and while that is true, it's not advertised as such because the wrap is passed through the same toaster as the chain's buns which - unfortunately for vegans - contain milk.
While researching their consumer base, McDonald's discovered that a third of patrons think it's important to eat more plant-based meals, which is backed up by extensive research on how vegetarianism and veganism affect the environment.
To put how damaging the livestock industry is into context, a 2006 United Nations report revealed that it produces more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world.
Then there's the fact that 64 percent of ammonia is generated by the livestock industry, which has a significant impact on how often we experience acid rain.
In short, if we all reduced the number of animal products we are consuming, we'd be doing wonders for our planet, regardless of whether or not we opt for an entirely vegetarian or vegan diet, and this should be encouraged in the younger generation with products like the vegetarian Happy Meal.
This news from McDonald's is perfectly timed with Veganuary - an annual event which encourages people to adopt a vegan diet for the month. According to a survey of New Year's resolutions, 2.6 million people in the UK are undertaking the challenge.
And even if people don't stick to the diet, it could encourage them to identify as a "flexitarian" - a person who cuts down on animal products as much as possible and can go for days at a time without eating meat.
Unfortunately, however, despite the fact that the restaurant chain is simply being more inclusive, some people on social media have taken umbrage with vegetarian Happy Meals, with one Facebook user writing, "Why do places like McDonald etc cater for vegiterians stop being politically correct if I went in a vegi restaurant they wouldn't knock me up a steak [sic]."
Another wrote: "Give it 60 days and it will no longer be on the menu."
Actual vegetarians, on the other hand, have been delighted by the news, with many quick to inform their friends on social media. And while this new addition certainly won't be for everyone, if the kids' reactions in the video above are anything to go by, it's still going to down a treat with the younger generation who, let's face it, only really want a Happy Meal toy!