Vegetarian Journal 2005 Issue 1

Fast Food Update

by Heather Gorn

There are vegetarians who would never eat at a fast food restaurant. To these people I would say, I understand completely. I have never eaten at a fast food restaurant. However, many people do. I am a firm believer that we need to work together in order to effect positive change. By communicating with these companies, we are demonstrating that there is a growing number of vegetarians and thus a growing interest in vegetarian food; by communicating in a constructive manner, we increase the chance of being heard. It would be a tremendous step for vegetarians to be taken seriously by the fast food business. And it is beginning to happen. More and more companies that we contact have pre-made handouts detailing their vegetarian and vegan menu options; these businesses are becoming more familiar with vegetarian and vegan diets. One company even took the initiative to call us and request guidance in adding vegetarian items to their menu. Slowly but surely change is coming—perhaps one day soon we will witness the rise of a vegetarian fast food chain.


Chick-Fil-A lists the following items as vegan (“Do not include any animal products”): Side salad without cheese, Cool Wraps® without chicken or cheese, plain bun with lettuce and tomato, barbecue dipping sauce, croutons, reduced fat raspberry vinaigrette, and any soft drink.

Chick-Fil-A lists the following items as vegetarian (“include egg, milk, and cheese”): Any salad without chicken, reduced fat raspberry vinaigrette, blue cheese dressing, buttermilk ranch dressing, spicy dressing, Thousand Island dressing, light Italian dressing, croutons, sunflower kernels, carrot raisin salad, cole slaw, any Cool Wrap® without chicken, Polynesian dipping sauce, Dijon honey mustard dipping sauce, barbecue dipping sauce, plain biscuit, brownie, Icedream®, lemon pie, cheesecake (any flavor), danish, and any soft drink.

The waffle fries at Chick-Fil-A are fried in oil that contains beef tallow.

Chick-Fil-A is able to prepare menu items differently upon request to accommodate customers with special dietary needs; Chick-Fil-A suggests that customers call ahead so that they are able to meet their needs in a timely manner. Customers can call the operator or manager to request special meals.


Denny’s Corporation stated:

“While most Americans do include meat and other foods of animal origin in their diet, there are also millions of Americans who, for various reasons (religion, environmental, ecological, economical, world hunger, and personal ethics), have decided to exclude meat and animal-based products from their diet. Denny’s offers a variety of foods and menu items for persons choosing to adopt vegan or vegetarian diets. Please see ingredient and specification notes for further information on how these lists were compiled.

In the past people eating a vegetarian diet were concerned with the sources of lecithin and mono- and diglycerides. According to industry sources, > (or equal to) 95% of these items are from non-animal sources. Currently Denny’s specifications do not require sources of food components such as these be disclosed; when possible this information will be utilized in generating nutritional guidance documents.”

Denny’s defines their vegan menu offerings as “excludes foods and food components of animal origin.” The breakfast items that Denny’s cites as vegan are oatmeal, grits, Cheerios, Corn Flakes, non-sugar frosted Mini Wheats, Raisin Bran, Rice Krispies, Sugar Frosted Flakes, Complete Bran, toasted bagels or English muffins with fruit topping or syrups, multi-grain bread (contains caramel color), plain French toast bread, fresh fruit bowl, applesauce, nut topping, any fruit topping, frozen strawberries, and any flavor of jelly.

The following lunch and dinner selections are listed as vegan: regular French fries (see deep fry procedures, opposite), sliced tomatoes, celery sticks, sautéed or grilled vegetables, applesauce, tortilla chips, and Pico de Gallo. A baked potato topped with salsa, nut topping, chopped tomato, steak sauce (caramel color), marinara sauce, sautéed mushrooms, grilled peppers and onions, or BBQ sauce is listed as vegan. Denny’s says that their English muffin, Boule bread, bagel, and Hoagie roll topped with tomatoes, red onions, pickles, mustard, lettuce, green chilies, ketchup, cucumbers, bell peppers, and light Italian dressing are vegan. The side salads, which can be topped with beans (at select stores), olives, nut toppings, diced chili peppers, mushrooms, cucumbers, oil and vinegar dressing, and light Italian dressing, are listed as vegan as well.

Denny’s cites their apple pie, apple crisp, and fruit selections as vegan desserts. These beverages and condiments are listed as vegan: Ruby Red Grapefruit, tomato juice, coffee, hot tea, iced tea, Raspberry Nestea, lemonade, cranberry juice, apple juice, orange juice, and maple syrup.

Denny’s cites the following breakfast items as “lacto vegetarian options – all vegan options plus dairy foods and foods containing components of dairy foods”: cold and hot cereal combos with milk, pancakes with toppings and syrups, buttermilk biscuits and country gravy, sourdough bread, croutons, buttermilk biscuits, white bread, and Special K Cereal.

These lunch and dinner selections, in addition to the vegan options previously mentioned, are listed as “lacto vegetarian”: Boca Burger (on sourdough or other listed bread), Grilled Cheese Deluxe, carrots side dish, corn side dish, green beans, mashed potatoes, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, any of the entrée salads (request no chicken, eggs, or Caesar dressing), nacho chips/cheese/tomato/onion with Pico de Gallo, all sliced or shredded cheese varieties, and cheese sauces.

Denny’s lists the following baked potato toppings as “lacto vegetarian”: shredded cheese, butter, cottage cheese, plain country gravy, sour cream, salsa, and Goldfish Crackers. Creamy Italian salad dressing, Ranch dressings, and French dressing are listed as “lacto vegetarian.”

Denny’s cites the following desserts as “lacto vegetarian”: fruit selections, banana split, Key Lime Pie (regional), Coconut Cream Pie, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, sundaes, milk shakes, floats, and malts.

In addition to their vegan list, Denny’s offers the following menu items for ovo vegetarians: eggs done any style, Eggbeaters, vegetable omelette, hamburger bun, dinner roll/miniburger, coleslaw, coleslaw dressing, French salad dressing, Thousand Island dressing, and pecan pie (seasonal).

Denny’s cites all of the above selections and the following menu items as suitable for lacto-ovo vegetarians: waffles, French bread, French toast, many of the breakfast entrées with substitute for meat (hashed browns, fruit, cottage cheese, tomato slices, and applesauce), all salad dressings (except Caesar dressing), Lemon Drop Meringue Pie, brownie à la mode, carrot cake, and cheesecake.

Denny’s provided the following disclaimers:

“This list is based on approved product specifications and may vary due to the use of local or regional vendors.

There are certain food components for which origin has not been specified by the processor. If the common sources for the component included non-animal as well as animal sources, the item has been included (i.e. mono- and diglycerides, lecithin).

If a processor listed an alternate source for a food component of animal origin, that item was not included in this listing.”

Denny’s also provided the following notes:

“Breads and baked goods: approved product specifications for English muffins, Bagels, Multi-grain bread, Boule bread, and French Toast Bread do not list milk- or poultry-derived food components. All bread items are produced locally, therefore the customer should check labels to confirm the absence of these constituents. Request DRY bread to avoid buttery spread.

“Deep fry procedures are as follow:

Cooking oils: All oils used for frying or grilling are soybean-based.

Honey is present in the honey mustard dressing and Cinnamon Teddy Grahams.

Soups: Currently all of Denny’s soups contain animal-derived ingredients.

Gelatin is found in the following products. The source of the gelatin is unspecified:

Cheeses: According to the manufacturers, the enzymes used may be either synthetic or of animal origin. Denny’s specifications do not require the enzyme source to be disclosed.”


El Chico reports that they do not have any menu items designated as “vegetarian,” but they do have items that contain no animal parts or fats that can be combined to make a vegetarian meal. El Chico has vegetables that can be steamed, and their corn tortillas do not contain lard. The refried beans contain bacon, but the frijoles rancheros do not. The rice is made with a chicken-based seasoning.

The “Top Shelf Guacamole”contains tomatoes, red onions, jalapeños, avocados, and seasonings. This offering is made at the table, so the customer can specify which ingredients are included. The “Top Shelf Chili Con Queso” contains meat. The regular “Chili Con Queso” does not include meat but may contain a chicken base.

El Chico reports that their menu is complex and changes periodically to implement quality and ingredient improvements. They may be offering a vegetarian fajita in the future, but a date has not yet been set for this addition. El Chico is always eager to accommodate special requests.


McDonald’s has been testing an Yves Veggie Cuisine brand McVeggie Burger in select markets nationwide. In September 2004, The Hain Celestial Group, Yves’ parent company, announced that tests of this product are expanding to 50 McDonald’s locations in Manhattan (New York City).

Please note: McDonald’s does not certify any of its products as vegetarian.


Uno reported that its Thin Crust contains a mozzarella cheese substitute that contains milk and that the Deep Dish Pizzas cannot be ordered without cheese. The pizza sauce, which contains chunky tomatoes, is vegan.

Uno said that its Cheddar, Gorgonzola, Muenster, Mozzarella, and Swiss cheeses are made with microbial rennet, its Romano and Feta cheeses are made with lamb-derived rennet, and the Parmesan cheese is made with calf-derived rennet.

Uno’s pasta is made from Durum Wheat Semolina and water. Uno’s pasta sauce is vegan.

The company reports that the veggie burger contains egg whites and is grilled on the same surface as the other menu items. The seasoned steamed vegetables contain seasoning that is made from natural butter flavor, as well as milk and egg components. Uno reports that its salsa is vegan.

The Cream of Broccoli Soup contains chicken stock, and the Windy City Chili contains meat. Uno’s Shrimp Scampi, even if ordered without the shrimp, contains a sauce that is made from chicken stock and clam stock.

Please note: We depend on company statements for product and ingredient information. It is impossible to be 100 percent sure about a statement, information can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use you own best judgement about whether a product is suitable for you. To be certain, do further research or confirmation on your own. If you want to be 100 percent sure, we suggest you do not eat items from these establishments. If you are like the majority of Americans, please do the best you can.

To order The Vegetarian Resource Group’s Guide to Fast Food and Quick Service Chains (24 pages), send $6 per copy to VRG, P.O. Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203. You can pay by credit card by calling (410) 366-8343 weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST.

Heather Gorn is an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania and a frequent volunteer for Vegetarian Resource Group outreach and research efforts.

Excerpts from the 2005 Issue 1:
Hot, Hearty Soups for Cold Winter Days
Make a meal with a chowder, chili, or stew from Peggy Rynk.
2004 VRG Essay Contest Winners
Two young winners relate their experiences with vegetarianism.
Fast Food Update
Heather Gorn investigates vegetarian and vegan options at four quick service restaurant chains.
Nutrition Hotline
Does adding fish and fish oils to your diet contribute to heart health?
Note from the Coordinators
Veggie Bits
Notes from the VRG Scientific Department
Interviews that our dietitians granted, outreach, Congressional bill concerning soymilk in schools, and VRG testifies about the USDA food pyramid.
Vegan Cooking Tips
Fast Greens, by Chef Nancy Berkoff
Scientific Update
Book Reviews
Vegetarian Action
“Just Cook,” He Said
Skai Davis: An Enterprising Vegan Restauranteur, by Ben A. Shaberman

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone who wishes to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

Thanks to volunteer Stephanie Schueler for converting this article to HTML.

The Vegetarian Resource Group Logo © 1996-2016 The Vegetarian Resource Group
PO Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203
(410) 366-8343   Email:
Last Updated
Feb. 14, 2005

The contents of this website and our other publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use your own best judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research or confirmation on your own.

Web site questions or comments? Please email