Earlier this year, Nestlé announced that the much-anticipated Kit Kat V, the new, plant-based version of one of the UK’s most iconic chocolate bars, was finally being released. Originally invented by Rowntree’s of York in the 1930s, Kit Kat continues to be one of the top five best selling chocolate bars in the country. It is no surprise that the demand for a vegan version was prevalent on social media, especially as other popular brands like Galaxy and Bounty have released vegan versions of their products.
I got the opportunity to try the Kit Kat V earlier this week. The novelty of breaking up the four sticks into little pieces and tasting the familiar (if slightly darker chocolate) taste of Kit Kat was not wasted on me. I thought it was delicious, and a lot of people on social media agreed.
But not everyone welcomed the plant-based chocolate biscuit. I noticed a surge of comments on Facebook and Instagram condemning those who bought the Kit Kat V. Their issue was that Kit Kat is made by a non-vegan brand and therefore buying it went against their philosophy as a vegan. My initial reaction was one of disbelief. Did people really solely consume completely vegan brands?
As we’re all aware, the quick and thoughtless condemnation of others is not uncommon on social media- nor is it very helpful. But in this case, it got me thinking about the ethical question behind buying from big, non-vegan brands. In some ways, I understood where these comments were coming from. Despite the hype around KFC’s Vegan Burger in January, I resolved never to try it. As somebody who doesn’t eat meat, I felt my money was better spent somewhere other than a chicken restaurant. So where do I draw the line?
Clearly, for many people, huge corporations like KFC and Nestlé stand in direct opposition to vegan values. Not only are many of their products the result of the exploitation of animals, but lots of people also take issue with their treatment of people and their impact on the environment. Nestlé has been involved in many horrific controversies, including being unable to guarantee that their cocoa does not come from child slave labour, and bottling freshwater in the US to sell back to its citizens, damaging the environment as a result. If veganism is, as it should be, about fighting back against all oppression, then it is easy to see how supporting Nestlé is incompatible with this.
However, on the other hand, making veganism as accessible and as attractive as possible is paramount. Veganism has always had a reputation of being a restrictive lifestyle. But this reputation is slowly withering due to its rising popularity. Now, when walking into a coffee shop you expect a variety of plant milks to be on offer as well as cow’s milk. The main supermarkets all have vegan ranges and most restaurants have vegan options, if not an entire vegan menu. Surely, an important aim of veganism is bringing it into the mainstream and normalising plant-based eating?
In this sense, we must remember that Nestlé’s influence is extremely powerful, because it is the largest food company in the world. Its support and the support of other non-vegan, big-name brands are crucial to the growth of veganism and its movement into mainstream culture. Products like Ben and Jerry’s vegan ice cream and Richmond’s Meat Free Sausages are so popular because they are produced by trusted brands. Arguably, if the Kit Kat V pushes more people to try vegan food, it can only be a positive step in the right direction.
Of course, ensuring that our consumption is ethical is important. We are becoming increasingly conscious of our impact on the planet, and therefore we are seeing a movement away from single-use plastics, fast fashion, and eating meat. One of the problems with this is that it is difficult to know exactly where products have come from and whether any exploitation has been involved in their production. Any large corporation, including supermarkets, is exploitative on some level. But, while we may not agree with a company’s values, or even most of its products, choosing its vegan products over non-vegan ones shows these food giants that veganism is worth investing in.
Should vegans buy from non-vegan brands? Ultimately, it is up to each individual to make their own decision. Rather than imposing narrow-minded, blanket views on what constitutes ethical consumption, we must be pragmatic and appreciate the incorporation of vegan products into big brands as a method of making veganism as attractive and accessible as possible. Making people feel guilty on social media simply puts them off veganism, rather than promoting it. In reality, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a raw vegan, a vegetarian, or just curious to try the vegan version of your favourite brand: there is no ‘correct’ way to consume plant-based food.