News has been spreading of White Castle's new veggie sliders. Why should we care? Because we care about broader acknowledgement of health and sustainability. Not that a company particularly cares about either, but it acknowledges that customers want those things ... even if the actual product isn't healthier.
White Castle is diving into a market other fast food chains have tried out but with limited customer buy-in. When McDonald's gave it a go back in 2000, they reportedly sold about four veggie burgers a day. Burger King sells them, but I've yet to hear or read a great review. And yet, White Castle is forging ahead.
I wish I could vouch for the quality of the new veggie sliders, but there really isn't a White Castle within 50 miles of here. It's a real bummer, too, because I love White Castle. Mmmm .... sliders.
Veggie sliders were among the top three most requested items in a 2013 White Castle survey. Jamie Richardson, the company's vice president, believes the limited-time menu offering is going to bring new customers in the door. I mean ... that's why they do these sorts of things, right? In order to reach a broader customer base?
The draw may not necessarily be that veggie sliders are healthier. Of course there may be that perception among many. But the veggie version has about the same fat and calorie content as meat-based White Castle sliders, so "healthier" may not be the exact word.
Apparently the draw for White Castle is that the veggie slider reduces what I found to be a delightful fast food industry term: "the veto vote." As in, there are a bunch of people at the office saying, "Where should we get food?" And when somebody suggests White Castle, another person vetoes it -- possibly on the grounds that there aren't vegetarian options. The goal, apparently, is to reduce your fast food chain's likelihood of being vetoed in a group decision process.
Honestly, I'd never thought about it in detail. But that's exactly how it goes in the real world.
Ultimately, this is a good move for everybody. Not because it's healthier or because there's a change of heart among fast food board members. But because it reflects a move among the public to demand or seek out products that may be healthier or more sustainable. We can leave conversations about greenwashing or health-washing for another article.
But ultimately I see less meat in the fast food offering as a more sustainable option, with regards to the amount of food that can be produced in a smaller space if it's a vegetable versus if it's beef. Also, lower beef production has a reduced impact on climate change due to lower methane (from cow farts and excrement).
These changes, whenever fast food companies or major corporations take them on, can be subjected to a cynical eye: the company is just trying to sell more product and it's not necessarily healthier. And that's fine. I tend to see it as the actual market making fundamental changes, and that's a much better, much more powerful force than one fast food chain.
Eric Justian is a professional writer living near the natural sugar sand beaches and singing sand dunes of Lake Michigan in Muskegon, Michigan. When he's not wrangling his kids or tapping at his computer, he likes to putter in his garden, catch king salmon from the Big Lake, or go pan fishing with his boys. As a successful blogger his main focus has been energy, Great Lakes issues and local food. Eric is a founding member of the West Michgian Jobs Group, a non-profit organization that evolved from a Facebook page called Yest to West Michigan Wind Power which now has over 8000 followers. West Michigan Jobs Group promotes independent businesses and sustainable industries in the West Michigan area. As the Executive Director of that organization he has advocated renewable energy as both a clean energy alternative for Michigan and a new industry with which to diversify our economy and spark Michigan innovation and jobs.