Vegan travelers have more options than ever. Disney just raised the bar


Eric Brent recently went on a cruise to the Baltics with more than 800 people, and there was a twist that he couldn’t have imagined a few decades ago: It was a “fully vegan” cruise ship.

Vegan burger (Photo: video grab from Reuters Twitter)

“There’s all different companies doing this now,” says Brent, founder of HappyCow, an app and website that lists vegan dining options in 180 countries. “It is becoming more popular.”

Last year, tour company Intrepid Travel introduced “vegan food adventures” to India, Italy and Thailand. This year, cruise lines including Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises announced new plant-based menus with more than 200 options to choose from. Royal Caribbean International added a vegan menu in the summer. Providence, Rhode Island, opened a new vegan food hall called Plant City in June that has become a tourist destination. And, of course, Burger King took the plant-based patty to the masses when it announced it would roll out the Impossible Whopper across the country by the end of the year.

“It is definitely catching on like I’ve never seen it in all the years I’ve been vegan,” says Brent, who went vegan 30 years ago and started HappyCow 20 years ago.

This week, Disney became the latest company in the travel world to offer a warm welcome to people who avoid eating animal products. The theme park giant announced a broad expansion of its menus, promising that all major quick-service and table-service restaurants would include plant-based items at its U.S. theme parks and hotels.

“For years and years, we’ve always made an effort to have something meatless available at most of our dining locations,” says Cheryl Dolven, manager of health and wellness in the food and beverage division at Disney Parks. “We got a lot of requests: ‘Can you take the dairy, egg or honey out of that as well?'”

The parks did have some items that fit that description. But the new plant-based initiative, she said, is “our way of going all-in on that.” A green leaf icon will indicate which items fit the veggie definition.

Disney is not using the terms “vegan” or “vegetarian” because the company has found that there’s not a consistent definition, Dolven says. Instead, Disney specifies that its plant-based food will not contain animal meat, dairy, eggs or honey. (The Vegan Society defines a vegan diet the same way, and adds that vegans avoid animal-derived materials, products tested on animals and places that use animals for entertainment.)

“We know it also meets the needs of a growing number of Americans that might not be taking meat out of their diet, but they’re just trying to get more plants in,” Dolven says.

A 2018 Gallup poll shows that while the number of people who identify as vegetarian (5%) or vegan (3%) had changed little compared with 2012, sales of plant-based foods increased more than 8% in 2017.

“Increased sales of plant-based foods, without a corresponding increase in the percentage of Americans who say they are vegan or vegetarian, likely indicates a greater overall interest in these products,” the Gallup snapshot said. “Based on the growth of the market and Gallup’s latest readings on vegetarianism and veganism, it appears Americans are eager to include alternatives to animal products in their diets but are not willing to give up animal products completely.”

At the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, which includes four theme parks, new options will be available Tuesday at quick-service restaurants and Oct. 3 at table-service locations. In a blog post, the company said more than 400 plant-based dishes would be available. At Disneyland in California, the new dishes will be available by spring of 2020.

The push was at least two years in the making, Dolven says. Part of the reason for the long planning phase was that the company wanted the new dishes to fit in with the themes of the restaurants where they would be served.

“We didn’t want it to just be pasta and sauce,” she says. “Our chefs have really wrapped their arms around this initiative.”

Disney is not the only theme park operator to increase its offerings for vegans and vegetarians. Late last year, Universal Orlando Resort announced new plant-based menu options at a handful of restaurants. And this month, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment said it was adding the Impossible Burger at its 12 parks, including SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Sesame Place.

“I can tell you that plant-based is, without a doubt, one of the biggest food and beverage trends happening right now,” Dolven says.



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