Is plant-based junk food just a flash in the pan, or is it here to stay?

YOU probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you that me tucking into a vegan mac’n’cheese for lunch while I write this was a total coincidence. It’s the Vegan Mac from Starbucks which, by some magic or miracle, manages to substitute cheese for butternut squash and, let me tell you, it’s at least 200 per cent more delicious than it sounds.

Mac’n’cheese is one of the most glorious junk food items of all time, so why, some might wonder, is it now being bastardised with one of your five-a-day? Well, friends, it’s all part and parcel of the shift towards plant-based recipes we’re seeing in your classic meaty junk food and takeaway staples. We’re talking burgers made from beans, kebabs made from Quorn and buffalo wings made using wheat and grains, and I am among those totally diggin’ it.  

You can enjoy some plant-based meals and they will be very good for you… but you can also get a plant-based burger, add a hash brown, fried vegetables and whack it in a big fat bun

Still, I don’t want you scrolling through this article thinking that I’m just spouting claptrap in a bid to shotgun front seat on a bandwagon. I love a chicken nugget as much as the next carnivore, but plant-based junk food is more than just a trend; it’s a movement we can’t ignore, so I went to seek out some back-up to prove it…  

While doing my research, I caught up with one of Liverpool’s pioneers of plant-based junk. I mean the city’s very first veggie and vegan junk food joint Down The Hatch and by pioneer, I’m talking about Rikki Baker, who co-founded the gaff back in 2017.

2019 10 15 Down The Hatch
Down The Hatch aka Seitan's Basement

These days, you can’t walk more than five metres through Liverpool city centre without coming face to face with some sort of vegan or vegetarian temptation. Like I said, even Starbucks is shoving its oar in. At the very beginning of it all, though, was Down The Hatch – the below street level vegan junk food eatery, aka Seitan’s Basement, towards the top of Duke Street that practically sparked anarchy on the herbivorous hospitality scene when it opened.  

I asked Rikki why she thought the whole plant-based thing has taken such a fast hold around the world – not just here at home – “we now have a much higher understanding and knowledge regarding plant-based diets and how they can help the environment,” she said. See, it’s not just all about health and fitness as the Instagram brigade might have you believe. That’s the mistake that some of the biggest critics of plant-based junk are making too.

2019 10 15 Down The Hatch Vegan Mac And Cheese
Vegan mac'n'cheese

Rikki went on to say: “Naturally, as the majority of our food is vegetables, one main benefit is that you are exchanging ingredients for ones that are better for you – but don’t get me wrong, plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean healthy when it comes from the DTH kitchen! I think people would be naive to believe that just because it’s plant-based, it makes it healthy. You can enjoy some plant-based meals and they will be very good for you – full of superfoods and nutrients – but you can also get a plant-based burger, add a hash brown, fried vegetables and whack it in a big fat bun. Then it isn’t as healthy.”  

What champions of this edible movement are flying the flags for, though, is how big a part plant-based recipes have to play in nurturing a more sustainable way of living (and eating). Our green-fingered girl reiterated how “plant-based is 100 per cent ethical and nothing gets hurt in the process” and how “for most people, it’s not about being healthy, it’s more about how the food is sourced and created”.

2019 10 15 Down The Hatch Plant Based Hot Dog
Plant-based hot dog

Before wrapping up our little tête-à-tête, I called upon Rikki’s insider intel and asked what she thinks the future holds for plant-based junk. Her verdict: “It’s here to stay and it’s exciting!” In fact, Rikki and the team are just weeks away from launching their second venue in the city – a plant-based chippy on Lark Lane going by the name of Woo Tan Scran. The success of that will speak volumes – if there’s anything we are precious about it’s our salt’n’pepper chicken and a good chippy tea.  

So, it seems that, as with most things that dare to venture anywhere left of central, plant-based junk food will continue to be a controversial topic but it’s safe to say it’s here to stay. For now, at least. Rikki’s advice for those who are still trying to size up this newfangled side of indulgence? “Just give it a go! There are great options on your doorstep. We need to start supporting everyone at whatever level or pace they choose to go at.” 

On that note, you might just want to head on over to our guide on the best places to eat vegetarian and vegan in Liverpool and add some new places to your hit list…  

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