McDonald's French Fries Still Not Vegetarian

Fries in the U.S.A. Are Not Vegetarian

Fried Potatoes
French Fried. This is a Lukerative Image/Getty Images

Most animal-rights activists follow a plant-based diet for ethical reasons and avoid places where billions of dead animals are served up every day. But vegetarians or vegans may have a guilty little secret concerning McDonald’s French fries — but don’t worry, no one is looking to out you. French fries are plant-based, right? No harm in indulging in a small bag of French fries “for the road,” is there?

Well, no, not if you live in India. If you live in India, you can consume all the French fries your heart desires because they are made of only plant-based ingredients. In fact, McDonald's in India does not serve pork or beef products. If McDonald's can respect the fact that in India, cows are sacred and not food animals and make veg-friendly fries then why can’t they do it in the United States?

American Fries Contain Animal Products

French fries at an American McDonald’s are not a vegetarian item. McDonald’s buys French fries from a supplier who adds beef to the other 18 ingredients in those fries. One would think French fries are pretty straightforward.

I mean, you slice up some potatoes, fry them in vegetable oil and everyone’s happy, right — so what if they add a little sugar to get that nice golden color. No harm in that, right?

But is it really important to those of us who avoid McDonald's — if they started offering French fries free of beef additive, would hard-core vegetarians or vegans patronize McDonald's? With PETA referring to them as McCruelty, I would submit that even if the fries weren’t laced with the blood of dead cows, ethical vegetarians would still stay away in droves.

Class-Action Lawsuit

In 2001 McDonald’s was hit with a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of vegetarians everywhere who were told the French fries were fried in vegetable oil; the inference being that the fries are no longer cooked in lard and are therefore vegetarian-friendly. But the company had a dirty little secret. Yes, the fries are cooked in vegetable oil, but the ingredients in the fries include beef.

The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of vegetarians and McDonald's settled for $10 million, with $6 million going to vegetarian organizations. It was originally filed by a small group of Hindu customers who felt they were duped into unwittingly consuming animal products, which is strictly against their religion.

The result? They didn’t change their recipe one bit. Their website still lists the ingredients right there in black and white for all to see. 

The Recipe Contains Beef Flavoring

Among ingredients listed on the website are potatoes, vegetable oil — containing canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil and natural beef flavor — and salt as well as wheat and milk.

A representative explains: “With regard to our French fries, any customer in the U.S. who contacts McDonald's USA to ask if they contain beef flavoring is told "yes." For flavor enhancement, in the U.S., McDonald's French fry suppliers use a very small amount of beef flavor as a natural flavoring during the par-frying process at the potato processing plant. In the restaurant, the French fries are cooked in vegetable oil.

"In addition, we have no plans to change the way we prepare our French fries in the U.S. However, it is important to know that our French fries are prepared differently in other countries.”

Why is that important? It’s insulting. They have the technology to stop using dead animals but refuse to do it for American vegetarians. It would seem safe to say they have no respect for vegetarian consumers.

Thing is, the feeling is most likely mutual.