Opinion: Why Chipotle Could Change the Face of Veganism

March 4, 2014
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Chipotle’s new Sofritas menu item served up in a burrito.

PSA: Chipotle has just added a new item to its nationwide menu, and it is vegan. The Sofritas–made of organic, non-GMO tofu and roasted poblanos, chipotle chiles, and spices–first debuted a year ago in select cities across the U.S. After an enthusiastic reception by customers, the popular restaurant chain has now decided to expand this new menu item to locations across the country. Now, among the steak burritos, chicken burrito bowls, and vats of sour cream, vegans and carnivores alike will have the opportunity to make a more compassionate choice during their lunch break.

This is hardly the first time a national restaurant chain has added a vegan option to its menu. Last year, Tropical Smoothie, a cafe with locations nationwide, added Beyond Meat chicken to its sandwich selection. In 2012, animal rights group Compassion Over Killing advocated for vegan sandwich options at Subway locations in Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland locations. And egg replacement by Hampton Creek Foods is currently being pitched to big food manufacturers with the goal of ultimately replacing eggs in most conventional baked goods.

What do all these compassionate moves mean for veganism? Chipotle and other chains are responding to consumer demand. The culinary zeitgeist is increasingly tending toward more sustainable, cruelty-free choices, and large companies like Chipotle realize they must respond accordingly. For meat eaters, these changes might serve as an introduction to plant-based eating, and hopefully demonstrate that it can be as delicious and convenient as traditional meat-based fare. As for vegans, we can further normalize our dietary choices and experience less anxiety when eating out.

Despite this seemingly win-win-win situation (win for the customers, win for the company, win for the animals), there is resistance among some vegans. They maintain that financially supporting any establishment that serves meat or dairy only perpetuates animal exploitation and the tremendous suffering therein. And while it would be ideal to support all-vegan companies all the time, it is simply not feasible for most of us.  For instance, by this logic, vegans would not be able to shop at any stores that sell non-vegan items, whether that is Whole Foods, any non-vegan restaurant, or vast majority of retail stores.  Eating at mainstream restaurants like Chipotle can be a way for us to demonstrate a clear and perennial demand for vegan options. And when the mainstream market takes notice, this would move the ticker from a meat-heavy culture to a plant-based one.

Attributing significance to Chipotle’s decision does not mean idealizing the company’s motives: Chipotle’s move was first and foremost strategic, and it likely came at the heels of a push by vegan customers who were tired of ordering the same vegetable burrito. Still, the end result is a gain for vegans and animal welfare advocates. A mainstream chain like Chipotle acknowledging their vegan demographic is a step in the right direction: its decision only portends future vegan accommodations within the food industry. It’s only a matter of time before seitan reigns on most restaurant menus and dairy-laden dishes are a thing of the past.

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Photo: Chipotle

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Contributing Editor Molly Lansdowne lives in Boston, Massachusetts. In her free time, she enjoys writing, practicing yoga, and traveling around New England. Follow Molly on Pinterest @bostonvegan and Instagram @molly_lansdowne.

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