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Least Relevant Comments

Descend deep into social media commentary about meat alternatives at chain restaurants. Find hell.

BY FRAN HOEPFNER · NOV 16, 2022

Pixel Illustration of a Devil Surrounded by Speech Bubbles and Flames

Since the dawn of time, people have made their marks using whatever resources they had. From the stone etchings of the ancient Romans to the silk tapestries of the Tang Dynasty, cultural artifacts tell the stories of those who made them.

Consider, in turn, the humble Facebook or Instagram comments section. In more ways than one, these are our etchings, our tapestries. Thousands of years from now, as researchers put together the story of our time, they’ll look at a comment on a restaurant chain’s Facebook page decrying a vegan sausage patty and wonder how this all came to be.

“You used to serve REAL things: real butter, real meat, real smiles, real good food,” one purist writes in a recent Facebook post. This in response to the August announcement that a beloved American restaurant chain—which specializes in traditional Southern comfort food and a folksy ambience drowned in lacquered wood—had added a meat alternative to its menu: the dreaded vegan sausage patty. It’s sad that some see this highway restaurant chain—which until this year has existed without a vegan-meat option—as the last frontier of legitimacy in a world seemingly built on lies.

And all the chain did was share the menu item’s inclusion on Instagram, accompanied by an illustration of a vegan sausage and a meat sausage shaking hands (in emoji fashion, naturally). The caption reads, simply, “Where pork-based and plant-based sausage lovers can breakfast all day in harmony.” This should have been a moment of togetherness, but for many, politics had now infiltrated the rest-stop-turned-restaurant’s sacred rocking-chair-lined borders. The only way to stop the onslaught was to...leave a mean comment.

“You used to serve REAL things: real butter, real meat, real smiles, real good food.”

“It’s not that there are options, it’s that another woke company will bite the dust.” Ah, an economist in the midst. There may just be too much nuance in raising concern about the consumption of animal products and the menacing consequences it has on our planet. Environmental crises are a lot to process, after all. Predicting a company’s financial demise at the hands of a veggie-based protein is the much easier take. You see, they’re doomed, not us.

To no one’s surprise, this particular restaurant has not been the only victim of an online deluge. Commenters have continued to pile on the Impossible Whopper, though it’s remained a menu staple since its 2019 release. One person notes that the only real effect it’s had is on the world’s “testosterone levels.” Because no one can be crowned a proper king if they’re withering to dust. Manliness is only born out of gristle and meat grease.

Still, this recent example took the vegan cake, as it were, with commenters going so far as to suggest the whole thing—by which, again, we mean vegan sausage patties—is a global conspiracy spearheaded by the world’s cabal of billionaires. Regardless of what online mobs say, though, plant-based options—in fast-food chains, in grocery stores, in fine dining—are here to stay. So why the fuss? On the one hand, there’s a simple answer: The internet is full of haters.

There’s also the basic human truth that change is scary! And if the depths of online social media commentary are any indication, change is also very often interpreted as a calculated shot to someone’s identity—not only as a red-blooded American (or Brit, or Swede, or faceless basement dweller), but as a red-blooded American with opinions. Lots of ’em.

“It’s not that there are options, it’s that another woke company will bite the dust.”

In the end, none of it really matters, of course. Change is necessary and something to be celebrated, not loathed. It might take a while, but just as we adjusted to the invention of fire, the wheel, the iPhone, and the mesh T-shirt, so too will mankind adjust to the presence of a single vegan option on the menu of a casual dining establishment. Then maybe everyone will also learn to shut up about it.

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