At the start of 2020 Burger King cynically jumped on the vegan bandwagon… sorry, they sincerely tried to make the world a better place… by launching their “Rebel Whopper”. This plant-based burger which, in their words, is “powered by the Vegetarian Butcher”, is a 100% vegan-friendly soy-based patty, but sadly, as has been widely reported, is not suitable for many vegetarians or vegans.
But why is the Burger King Rebel Whopper not vegan? Well, the main answer is that the patty, the “burger” bit of the finished Whopper, will be cooked on the same grill as all of Burger King’s beef burgers. In other words, all the plant-based green goodness of the Rebel Whopper will be covered in the juices and fats of cows.
Clearly many vegetarians, let alone vegans, would be uncomfortable at best by the concept and many would be repulsed or angered. In addition, unless a customer requests otherwise, the Rebel Whopper includes Burger King’s standard (and non-vegan) mayonnaise, which contains eggs. Is this the least vegan plant burger ever? Quite probably!
Why Has Burger King Made the Rebel Whopper Non-Vegan?
The official line from Burger King is that the burger is not and never was intended for vegans or vegetarians. Instead it was created for those wanting to reduce their meat consumption, either for health or ethical reasons. Whilst the mayo is made with eggs and the patty essentially comes into contact with beef, the Rebel Whopper doesn’t contain any meat and so it does, in theory, fit within a “flexitarian” diet of someone simply looking to eat less meat.
Whether we believe the corporate explanation is another matter though and there are a number of possible reasons why this seemingly pointless burger has come about. Could it be that the product development staff at the world’s second most famous fast food burger chain just overlooked the fact that to create a fully vegan, or even vegetarian, version of the Whopper would be logistically challenging?
That is undoubtedly a possibility, whilst it could also be that the Burger King lawyers were worried that if they claimed it was vegan they would be putting themselves at risk should an underpaid employee forget to use the vegan “broiler” (if they had gone down that route). As well as the cost and difficulty of installing a separate grill, Burger King would have to train and educate their staff too and it seems very reasonable that this all just seemed like too much trouble and expense.
Another possible explanation is that Burger King were hoping to create a bit of a stir, something they have certainly managed. Marketing and PR professional who advocate the “no publicity is bad publicity” school of thought would certainly be happy with the media attention garnered by the non-vegan plant burger. And, it could even be the story that keeps on giving as now the chain could generate even more publicity if and when they do decide to market a fully vegan offering.
When it comes to the big corporations of the world, there should be no limit to the cynicism with which we treat them. There are many who agree that Burger King’s Rebel Whopper is little more than an attempt to jump on the bandwagon. Opinion is somewhat divided, with a Vegan Society spokesperson calling it a “missed opportunity”, whilst a representative for Veganuary said that we should not fall into the trap of letting “perfection be the enemy of good” and that “increasing the availability of plant-based options” could only be a good thing.
We haven’t decided quite where we stand on this yet and it is doubtful whether we’ll ever know for sure the full story behind the Rebel Whopper. Whilst it might be a good option for those who simply want to eat less meat, the fact is that for most vegans the Rebel Whopper is decisively off the menu.
That said, if you are a vegan who very much follows the mantra of not letting perfection be the enemy of the good, you might feel that the Rebel Whopper is okay. If you do want to give it a go though, just remember to request it without mayo!