OPINION: Impossible To Please? Cross-Contamination Is The Least Of Our Worries

Cross-contaminated food is not vegan in some countries, by law. But ethically are there bigger fish (and patties) to fry?
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'An emotional response is not the same as an ethical one' (Photo: Burger King)

'An emotional response is not the same as an ethical one' (Photo: Burger King)

As Burger King's Impossible Whopper rolls out nationwide in the US, the furore over cross-contamination risks has swarmed the internet -proving that purism is still prevalent as ever in the vegan movement.

The plant-based patty, created by Impossible Foods, is cooked on the same broiler as regular burgers and chicken.

Customers who have concerns about cross-contamination can specifically ask for it to be prepared separately, to reduce the risk.

But does it really matter if vegans choose to eat food they know may be cross-contaminated?

It is essential that food providers label their food accurately. Failure to do so carries severe risks - including potentially killing someone with allergies. The responsibility to appropriately and adequately label food is a legal obligation in many countries. For example, it is illegal for cross contaminated food to be called vegan in the UK.

Assuming the food has been correctly and accurately labeled - with any cross-contamination risks properly accounted for - and the customer is accurately and fully aware of any risks, it becomes an ethical question for the individual.

Cross-contamination, while understandably off-putting, doesn't actually contribute towards animal cruelty. It doesn't perpetuate the demand for animal products, and it shouldn't make you any less of a vegan. 

Because an emotional response is not the same as an ethical one. In the same way that buying leather from a charity shop doesn't actually cause harm to any more animals than when it was first bought. 

Of course, this doesn't mean that you have to buy the Impossible Whopper - and many vegans avoid it due to one of the ingredients being tested on rats, which is a sound ethical position - but maybe besmirching those who do isn't particularly productive. 

Ashley Byrne, a campaign director for PETA, hits the nail on the head.

"It's really not about the personal purity of what the products are being cooked next to," Byrne states.

"People are choosing vegan options because they care about animals and the environment. We think that these benefits really override any concerns about cross-contamination."

It's kind of a double standard too, considering the vast majority of vegans are comfortable consuming foods that are labeled with 'may contain milk'.

But criticizing Impossible Foods and its collaboration with Burger King is hardly surprising.
The brand has already been hit with a hurricane of backlash, whether it be for previous animal testing or its ingredients not adhering to a whole-foods-high-carb-low-fat-no-oil-salt-free diet.

This kind of response has the potential to put companies off creating plant-based products in fear of criticism and further estranges veganism as a feasible and accessible lifestyle.

Cross-contaminated food is not legally vegan in some countries. But ethically are there bigger fish (and patties) to fry?

*This article was updated on August 9, to reflect that food producers have an obligation to inform customers of cross-contamination risks and that failure to label food properly carries severe risks.