In 2017, a huge storm called Hurricane Harvey slammed Houston, Texas. Lots of destruction. Awful stuff. Click here for information on how to help the victims of natural disasters in the US.
Just after the hurricane hit, someone snapped a photo of the empty produce shelf at a supermarket outside of Houston. Well, it wasn’t all empty–the “vegan meat and cheese” section appeared to be untouched. The photo has been shared countless times on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and elsewhere. Commenters relish at the fact that ‘no one touches that gross vegan food.’ Hehehe. Hahaha.
Hurricane season 2018 is upon us, and the photo is starting the make the rounds again on social media.
There’s one small issue: the photo is completely misleading.
Why the photo is misleading.
At almost every supermarket, the meatless meat products are either frozen or they are stored next to fresh fruits and vegetables. Like most fruits and vegetables, those products are kept on the open/chilled shelves.
However, unlike fresh fruits and vegetables, vegan meats and cheeses are packaged and are shelf-stable. They remain good for months. Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, go bad after only a few days. Especially if there’s a power outage and they go un-chilled for a long stretch of time. For that very reason, fruits and veggies are constantly re-stocked.
When there’s a natural disaster that disrupts the supply line of fresh fruits and veggies, those fresh produce shelves don’t get restocked. Whatever was there before the hurricane gets bought up or goes bad, and then may not get refilled for days until the supply lines are back. It’s not like customers bought up all of the bell peppers and zucchinis to prepare for the hurricane.
A less misleading photo would show the shelves of packaged, shelf-table foods. Things like canned foods. Oatmeal. Potato chips. Jerky with all of its preservatives. Foods like that. Were those sold out, or did they appear “untouched” because they’re shelf-stable? Unfortunately we don’t have a picture of those aisles of the store.
This infamous photo was taken at a supermarket chain in Texas called HEB. So, I contacted their customer support line to see if they could provide more info. They left a voicemail with their response. Here it is, verbatim:
“During and after the aftermath of Harvey, a lot of our perishable items had to be discarded as we lost power in a lot of our stores. We also did have a lot of issues with production as far as getting products back into the store due to production issues.”
–HEB Grocery Store
There you have it. The fresh, perishable produce went bad, and the hurricane disrupted supply lines. So those shelves were not re-stocked before the photo was taken.
Is the photo secretly pro-vegan?
This photo is shared with the intent of poking fun at vegans. Despite the anti-vegan rhetoric that typically accompanies this photo, the truth is: all of the empty shelves were for vegan foods! In other words, the photo is making fun of vegans by alleging that some vegan foods (fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms) out-sold other vegan foods.
Vegan meats are very popular. And their popularity is significantly increasing.
Vegan meats and cheeses are very popular. And they are so delicious, that high demand is causing them to sell out quickly.
In non-disaster times, it can be difficult to get many of the popular vegan meats and cheeses because they are in such high demand.
The Beyond Burger and Beyond Sausages are so popular, that the company that makes them just opened a new production facility that will allow them to triple capacity. Throughout most of the summer, people could not get their hands on Beyond Meat products because they were selling out too quickly. The Beyond Burger expanded to the Canadian market this summer as an offering at a fast food chain restaurant there, and the restaurant sold out, resulting in a Canada-wide shortage. Not because of a hurricane, but because so many people wanted it.
In my own supermarket experience, I can tell you that the tastiest varieties of vegan meats and cheeses sell out quickly. They are harder to find until the company expands production. (I’m looking at your Field Roast creamy original and Tofurky bologna deli slices).
The vegan meat industry is growing rapidly.
How is this possible? Because vegan meats are more delicious than ever, and people are discovering that.
I’ve been eating a meat-free diet for a decade. There is amazing competition among talented chefs, and massive investments from innovative food companies. Vegans meats and cheeses are more delicious than ever.
So don’t fall for the misleading photos that try to make a mockery of meatless meats.
The twisted conclusion: maybe if more people ate vegan meats, there’d be fewer intense hurricanes.
The evidence shows that climate change may be causing more hurricanes, and more intense hurricanes. And one of the biggest drivers of climate change are the emissions from the production of livestock for meat products. So, maybe try some of those vegan meat products. They’re really tasty and they might be good for the planet too.