Vegetarian Menu Hacking

As zoosexuals, a lot of us have thought more than the average person about whether we want to eat animals. There is no one universal answer that we all arrive at. Some zoos do dedicate themselves to a diet of strict veganism, refusing to participate in treating animals as products in any way. Other zoos may avoid meat but will still eat cheese and eggs. Many zoos are just as omnivorous as everyone else: sometimes because they've decided that omnivores exist in other species too and that excuses them from any extra responsibility, or, sometimes because they wish they could be vegan but have never been able to figure out how to change their diet.
Today, I wanted to share some practical tips for getting fast food as someone who is trying to not include meat in their meal. Sometimes we're on the go, in a hurry, or just not feeling like cooking, and fast food would make for a nice treat--but, fast food is also very happy to sell you heated up dead animal bodies, which we may be making an effort to avoid commodifying. These tips won't bring you to the level of eliminating all animal products from your day completely, there's still going to be cheese and mayo and eggs, but, depending on where you're at right now, it could be a move in an animal-rights-positive direction! And it will still give you plenty of options if you're trying to get lunch in a hurry somewhere.
About Menu Hacking
Before we get into deets on a few specific fast food chains, I just want to rapid fire go through some general points about vegetarian menu hacking.
You aren't weird - Fast food employees are very used to seeing customized orders. Probably about half of all the orders they get have some kind of picky alteration made to them, whether that's taking off the pickles, adding extra mustard, or even the extra special lettuce for buns. The people working behind the counter know that people may have dietary restrictions or just have personal preferences on how they want their food, and so when they see an order come through asking them to remove the ground beef from a burrito and replace it with beans, they won't be gossiping about your order for hours to come: they'll probably just make it quick and move on to the next order in the queue.
Kiosks are cool for exploring options - All of the stuff that we're about to cover can be ordered out loud, whether that's in a drive through or at the counter. But, if the place you're visiting has those fancy electronic ordering kiosks, or if you're ordering through an app, it's a neat way to explore what substitutions you're able to order. Tapping "none" on beef and then scrolling through what the add-on options are, you might find something that sparks your interest.
They might screw up your order - Despite never ordering meat a single time in the last decade, I have been served meat quite a lot anyways. Sometimes the person making the food didn't notice the special request, sometimes there was a miscommunication about what you ordered in the first place, sometimes people just make mistakes. If you order veggie and get meat anyways, it's up to you what to do about that. Some choose to bring it back to the counter and ask them to remake it veggie: maybe they are repulsed by the idea of eating meat and literally couldn't eat it if they wanted to, or maybe they hope it will be a learning moment to show the staff that some people ordering here do in fact not want any meat in their meal. Others, when receiving accidental meat, will eat it: it was already made, at this point you're not helping any animals by having the food thrown away. You can decide for yourself what feels right to you.
Okay, with those things said, let's get into it! This is far from every fast food restaurant that exists, but these examples should give you an idea of the kinds of things that are possible to do.
Taco Bell
A lot of great veggie possibilities here! They already have some menu items that don't have meat, and in my experiences these are pretty clearly marked with a little green icon on the menu: the potato taco, the bean burrito, the black bean crunchwrap. As far as menu hacking, they have a lot of veggie substitution possibilities. In place of the beef, you can have them put in fried potatoes, black beans, rice, or lettuce, or some other veggies or crunchies, you've got a number of choices.
One Taco Bell custom order that is pretty fire, if you're okay with dairy, is a 5-layer burrito, subbing out the beef for black beans.
If the breakfast menu is active, you have a banger opportunity to get meat-free McDonald's; If the breakfast menu is off, you still have a little bit you can do, but it's more limited.
So, once upon a time, like every McDonald's I ever visited had All Day Breakfast, meaning that no matter what time of day you walked in, you could order off of the breakfast menu. The breakfast menu has some veggie possibilities: ordering the little sandwiches without the meats on them, or getting some eggs and pancakes. But as far as menu hacking, the rad thing about All Day Breakfast was that you could order a burger, take off of the meat patty, and add on an egg.
Egg burger!
I don't know whether that sounds appealing to you or not appealing to you, but, I dare you to try it if you get the chance. A Big Mac sub meat with a round egg is perfectly fulfilling in my opinion.
But, if they don't have All Day Breakfast, and you're stuck trying to just order dinner food at a McDonald's, then here's what I'd do: get a meal that includes a burger, ask for no meat on the burger, and then once you get the food, put the french fries into the burger where the meat would go. Like, it feels kinda empty to receive a no-meat burger, but it is all food, and the fries basically also work there, and it's fun to play with your food and open up the burger and put the fries in yourself.
Pizza Places
I cannot think of a pizza place I've ever been to that didn't have a cheese pizza readily available. Some people like it plain just as a taste preference, which is convenient for us as people who don't want meat as an ethical preference. Most pizza places also have some kind of veggie pizza that you can order. My favorite is green olives, mushrooms and roasted red peppers, but there's a whole world of customization options available for you to explore.
If you want to take an extra step into reducing animal products in your order, some places will let you order a pizza without cheese. You can get the crust with the sauce and all of the toppings and seasonings that you want, just without the cheese in the middle. It might sound kind of strange if you're not used to it, but it's worth a try if you're curious.
Subway, Panda Express, Chipotle, and Burger King
These four chains all have really solid vegetarian options as default menu items, and they're where I'm pulling into if I'm on a road trip and I'm fortunate enough to pass by one when it's time to eat.
At Subway, you can order a Veggie, and get a sandwich that just has a bunch of vegetables on it; other sandwich shops like Jimmy John's and Jersey Mike's have the same. At Panda Express, you can get greens, noodles, and rice. At Chipotle, you can basically just skip the meat parts and go right into getting a bunch of tasty veg. At Burger King, they've got the Impossible Whopper, a veggie burger that has all of the toppings of the regular Whopper.
Once you have a handle on this concept, you'll come to realize that pretty much any menu is hackable, and not in ways that are going to make your experience eating at them any worse. A lot of restaurants are starting to adopt at least a few vegetarian options, but they aren't always the best, so feel free to try out all different kinds of interesting orders to find the right options for you! 
Closing Thoughts
Eating veggie is pretty doable, even while still engaging with fast food! If nothing else, you can usually at least get some kind of side, like the fries. If you're currently living an omnivorous lifestyle but are questioning whether you feel okay with doing that, then I'd recommend giving these sorts of things a try, just to see how it feels to make a different choice about supporting the objectification of animals.
Article written by Alissa Dogchurch (May 2024)
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