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More Than Half of Top U.S. Chain Restaurants Have at Least One Vegan Option

GFI’s scorecard reports on the biggest chains, as they generate 32 percent of all U.S. restaurant sales, and includes criteria such as how well restaurants market plant-based products to omnivorous audiences and how easily dishes can be veganized.

Topping the list are Jamba Juice and Panera Bread, along with burger joints Dave & Buster’s and White Castle, which added the Impossible Burger to their menus. Other leading restaurants include TGI Fridays, which offers the Beyond Burger, and Yard House, which offers a large number of vegan or easily veganized dishes.

Del Taco, which debuted Beyond Meat tacos last year and rolled out the product nationwide, scored seven out of 10. Carl’s Jr., which sells the Beyond Burger at all 1,000 locations, increased 1.25 points from the previous year.

Alison Rabschnuk, director of corporate engagement at GFI, stated:
Plant-based burgers from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have been hot on menus for a while, but no restaurant has yet featured a breakout plant-based chicken, seafood, or egg dish. The brands that launch these kinds of dishes first will gain a lot of positive PR and attention on social media and will open themselves up to new customers looking for more plant-based variety.
Unsurprisingly, large fast-food restaurants McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King scored zero at a time when some of their investors are urging the companies to reduce their environmental impacts. The investors—members of Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR)—are asking the companies to set and monitor targets for greenhouse gas emissions and freshwater impacts.

Jeremy Coller, founder of FAIRR and chief investment officer of Coller Capital, said:
Every day around 84 million adults consume fast food in the US alone, but the inconvenient truth of convenience food is that the environmental impacts of the sector’s meat and dairy products have hit unsustainable levels. To put this in perspective, if cows were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
One way these fast-food restaurants could decrease their carbon footprints? Increase their vegan options and reduce or eliminate meat and dairy.

It’s no secret that the animal agriculture industry is disastrous for the environment. A pound of meat requires on average 13 times more fossil fuel and 15 times more water to produce than a pound of soy. According to a recent study from the University of Oxford, “the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes, providing new evidence for important dietary change.

By offering more vegan options and cutting back on meat and dairy, restaurants and fast-food chains could significantly decrease their environmental impacts.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, greenhouse gas emissions from raising farmed animals make up about 15 percent of global human-induced emissions.

Ian Monroe, chief investment officer at Etho Capital and lecturer at Stanford University, told The Guardian:
If you look at the next 20 years, methane is over 80 times more potent at warming the planet than CO2, so pollution from livestock is playing an outsized role in the climate-driven devastation we’re already seeing from superstorms, floods, droughts and wildfires.
A 2014 article in The New York Times reports that the U.S. government cannot require ranchers to obtain greenhouse gas permits for methane emissions or require farmers to report “greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems. This is not surprising, since the government subsidizes the animal agriculture industry.

In addition to emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gas, animal farming uses 83 percent of agricultural land, despite providing only 18 percent of calorie intake, according to The Guardian.

Eating meat also contributes to water pollution. According to the EPA, animal agriculture is a primary source of water pollution, as manure runoff and animal waste flood surface and groundwater with nitrogen and phosphorus. A 2008–2009 EPA study found that about 40 percent of U.S. river miles had excessive levels of these nutrients.

By ditching meat and dairy products, your dietary carbon footprint could be reduced by more than half, according to a comprehensive study by the University of Oxford.

But adding more vegan options isn’t just good for business and the planet; it also spares countless animals a life of misery at factory farms. Pigs, cows, chickens, and other farmed animals suffer horribly. From birth to death, these innocent animals are caught in a nightmare: crated and caged, cut and burned, and brutally killed.

Just as there is no question that animal agriculture is terrible for animals, there is no question that it’s also terrible for the planet. Join the millions of people helping protect farmed animals and the planet by switching to a vegan lifestyle.

Get started by downloading our FREE Vegetarian Starter Guide today and check out our Pinterest page for hundreds of delicious vegan recipes!