Healthful Fast Food: A Gateway to Sustainable Food Habits?

Healthful Fast Food: A Gateway to Sustainable Food Habits?

People eating at a Veggie Grill

Adopting a meat-free diet has positive implications on the environment. We’ve seen how the increased consumption of meat around the world increases greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and is a major factor in climate change. But is adopting a vegan, vegetarian, or “sometimes” vegetarian diet a consumer trend to just “be healthy”? And can this trend be a gateway for more sustainable food habits?

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman recently wrote an article in the Times Magazine on healthful fast food. He proposes that there is an increasing consumer trend for healthy vegan/vegetarian fast food. And by “fast food” he means quick, tasteful, and cheap. As he explores restaurants like Veggie Grill (which is strictly vegan), Native Foods Café (vegan), and Lyfe Kitchen (not vegan, but beef that is grass-fed and humanely raised) he proposes that there is an increasing demand for healthy, sustainable, high quality, and tasteful fast food. And – that the consumers are not strict vegans or vegetarians.

Bittman proposes that there is a “niche group that you might call the health-aware sector of the population” – and that there is a market for fast food for this health-aware population. These people may not necessarily be strict vegans or vegetarians, they may just “like” to eat healthy and maybe “like” to know that their food is more sustainable than say, going to McDonalds. They are not, necessarily, strict in their practice and strict in their beliefs. They may eat a vegan meal for lunch but just as easily order a steak for dinner.

Bittman doesn’t propose that all healthy fast food restaurants be vegan or vegetarian. But he does seem to emphasize it. As more people begin to make more healthful restaurant choices and as these vegan and vegetarian fast food restaurants become more readily available, can we expect to see people maintaining or adopting sustainable food diets? Surely, the increased availability of vegan and vegetarian restaurants (and hopefully the affordability) can make maintaining a meatless diet easier. And, with more awareness on how these restaurants are sustainable in their practice – whether by being meat free or how they source their products, hopefully more people will begin to think more critically about their food habits and the environmental effects of meat consumption.

(While there is an increased trend in sustainable restaurants and a sustainable diet in the United States, meat consumption and the globalization of fast food is still an issue worldwide. Ironically, the American population seems to be moving towards more environmentally sustainable restaurants while American fast food chains continue to infiltrate other countries, introducing unsustainable and poor-quality food.)

Maintaining an environmentally sustainable diet often coincides with maintaining a healthy diet. But often, many people do not know the correlation. Hopefully, with an increase trend towards vegan and vegetarian fast food restaurants and a healthy diet, meat consumption will continue to decline and “sometimes” vegetarians/vegans will recognize the positive implications of their “sometimes” diet and fully adopt a more sustainable diet.

Photo courtesy of Ned Raggett