A diet of discrimination

a Burger King plant-based whopper with the page title across the image Reading Time: 6 minutes

Carnivores, pescatarians, vegetarians, and vegans are offered very different experiences from omnivores in cafes and restaurants. It’s equal to discrimination.

Changing diets

Omnivore is the majority diet in most of our World. It’s perhaps reasonable to “normalise” the consumption of meat in the same way ableism supports “normality”. Meat is televised as cooked, processed, and raw across Europe and the UK. Animals in pastoral settings advertise the succulence of their long-dead and refrigerated flesh. 

Meanwhile, inclusion is big news and even bigger business. Older movies display warnings of their now offensive content and people in previously marginalised groups flood the new narrative. The media is carrying advertising with it to undo the injustices of social discrimination and stereotypes. Passionate debates follow on topics like where we all pee, a Disney character’s changing ethnicity, and how many of any group are represented in any setting. In short, we’re extending who and what we believe is “normal”. 

I believe ability and diet are falling behind.

Food discrimination

There are many reasons for me to have experienced discrimination in my life. The worst are experienced since becoming a pescatarian. I’ve abstained from red meats and poultry for a year. It’s Jane Goodall’s doing. Her arguments are persuasive and I respect her work to unite us on the side of our environment.


What I share next is personal to me and I don’t invite crude memes or outdated stories about my teeth, thanks. I find meat advertising difficult.

I don’t mean to preach or to explain my choices and I do dislike the open display and smells of dead flesh. Our already woefully inadequate approaches to animal husbandry and murder are being eroded by cultural differences, too. Cutting a sentient creature’s throat in a country that bans boiling crustacea to death is kinda weird. A bolt through the head and post-mortal blood drainage is fine in a temperate climate, thanks. I imagine suffocating in your own blood is distressing. I don’t wish that on you and I don’t wish it on our animals. We don’t even dispatch our old folk like that – although denying the choice of euthanasia may be equally cruel. 

Most people in my culture avoid eating dog and horse flesh. People go to prison for abusing these and other species. In my struggling mind, I perceive the same distaste in a butcher’s display of captive juveniles taken to their execution. That written, I really miss a good braised beef cheek, bacon butty, and veal in white wine sauce. Not all on the same plate. I have standards. I guess I’m doomed to falter someday.

The point is that abstaining from meat is my choice of conscience while for some people, it isn’t a choice at all. The endpoint is the same, we don’t eat animal flesh and that’s normal.

Progress and ketchup

My diet makes cooking for our family difficult and it’s not impossible to adjust. The full impact of foodie discrimination is when we want to or need to eat out.

The food industry is making some progress with manufacturing vegan and vegetarian options for home cooks. Supermarkets offer meat-replicant sausages and pies while scientists work to remove the ethical question of slaughter. This is all good work. We know how to reduce the ecological and health risks of meat consumption.

Restaurants are slow to catch up where once they led the charge. Vegetarian options remain defined by pasta and cheese and pescatarians are blocked by chorizo sauces. Orders for fish and chips come with questions about oil or lard, and vegetarian burgers are potato patties served with potato fries. Menus segregate vegetarians from omnivores and vegans get the feck-off V. 

Like with accessibility, food designers need education. They need to learn about the topic and the variety of consumers including:

  • That fish needs a pescatarian option.
  • Vegetarians don’t need any meals to resemble meat.
  • Asian fish and crustacean meals need vegetables too!
  • There’s more to vegetable dishes than staging an Italian tomato murder scene.
  • Vegetables make a great pie without all the unnecessary cheese or Mediterranean influences!
  • Threading random cheeses into places they shouldn’t be is not the basis of vegetarian cuisine.
  • That a traditional ‘meat and two veg’ meal is easy to convert to plant-based without being wildly different.
  • A sloppy pasty with random olives and fries is not a vegetarian Wellington (thank you Gretna Green Hotel).
  • Some people don’t eat vegetables and shouldn’t need to pay the same for a 30-gram portion of canned baked beans.
  • Celebratory set meals are a shared experience and not an opportunity to single out the dietary weirdos with ill-judged child-like options.

Like accessibility, there’s much to learn about dietary discrimination and an opportunity to specialise. As we do for accessibility, we need to put our consumers’ experience first.

Plant based utopia

Fast food burger outlets could offer their meaty range of burgers to vegetarians instead of creating an entirely different range. They only need to swap in the plant-based stuff and be mindful of where vegetarian and particularly vegan foods are prepared. And there’s the risk.

I recently enjoyed Burger King’s Veggie Bakon King. I recommend you try one. It’s a delicious double plant-based patty with plant-based cheese and plant-based bacon. It was amazing and allowed me to share the fast food experience with my family. Travelling the next week, I stopped at a Burger King aiming to repeat the experience. I was disappointed. Only the plant-based Whopper was available. I tapped on my order and was pleased when offered to add cheese and bacon. In context, it’s reasonable to expect the same plant-based cheese and plant-based bacon I’d enjoyed the week before.

When I sat with my meal, the added bacon was flesh and cheese was dairy! That’s a very real business risk and evidence of “normalised” procedures and poor system design. In clinical and cultural terms, this was a near-miss incident for people with allergies and cultural sensitivities.

Note: To their credit, the manager sorted the problem out for me and I hope for others.

I congratulated myself for avoiding the flesh with a gift of my old favourite candy, coconut mushrooms. Nom-noms! Reading the label after purchase stopped all joy. Their ingredients include boiled cow feet. How difficult must it be to be to avoid animal flesh?

Ability discrimination

Yeah, I know. We’re working on it. In all honesty, I don’t recognise any great progress in our industry since my awakening in 2007. I’m grateful for our tutor, Terry King who instilled the vital importance of inclusion in our eLearning designs.

It’s no secret that I blame the paucity of accessibility topics in tertiary design education today. We’re offered textbooks that give accessibility to only one page in 600 and in my recent UX experience, educators quickly tarry away from the topic of accessible code. They stick to the graphics their know and shape, space, and contrast.

I point at product and user experience leaders’ hiring habits too. The most beautiful portfolio or full-stack certificate gets the role. We repeat the hiring of similarly abled clones to leadership and into education. We repeat the same accessibility presentations and seldom progress beyond our ambition for compliance. I still find the energy to deliver that, by the by. Ability equity is too big a deal to back away from when it’s tantalising possible to achieve.

The secret to an accessible and inclusive digital product is the same as that for our food. It’s motivation to change and a break away from, “we’ve always done it that way”. We may need new leadership and new tutors to deliver that.

Justice desserts

Designing for what we experience and believe is normal occludes anyone who is different. Institutionalised ableism is a very real phenomenon when we live with, commute by, and work with able “normality”. Discrimination against diets is similar when our cooks and chefs each share a normalised omnivore diet.

The problem for diet is that discrimination laws mainly refer to beliefs and not choices. The Irish Equal Status Acts (2000 to 2018):

“allow positive action to promote equality for disadvantaged persons or to cater for the special needs of persons”…

“…discriminatory advertising is also prohibited. It is prohibited to publish, display or cause to be published or displayed, an advertisement which indicates an intention to discriminate, harass or sexually harass or might reasonably be understood as indicating such an intention.”

The Acts include grounds of ability and not of diet. I believe it should include diet. There’s hope following a 2020 judgement that determined vegans follow a belief and can therefore experience discrimination. Well, I know I have experienced discrimination this year and I believe we can stop any form it takes.

What do you believe?

Digest these statistics

Your takeaway is as follows.

Discriminating against abilities is bad for business

A 2019 study by Nucleus Research found 70% of US websites to have, “critical accessibility blockers”. They estimated that among these, the e-commerce websites were losing nearly $7 billion dollars a year to their more accessible competitors.

Discriminating diet is bad for business

Like for accessibility and inclusion, we may uncover jumps in sales of billions of dollars if we only designed for ability edge scenarios.

Here are some statistics on diet:

  • At least 88 million consumers are vegan in our World.
  • At least 3% of the World’s population (that’s around 240 million people) are pescatarians.
  • At least 1.5 billion people are vegetarian. That’s 18%!
  • In 2022, the plant-based food industry was then worth over $8 billion in the US alone! Its growing.

Doing nicely? Discriminate at your own risk. More inclusive competitors are gonna bite chunks out of your backside, and soon.



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