Don’t eat corn dogs or burgers? The Disneyland Resort has been named the most vegan-friendly theme park in America, by PETA —People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The announcement attracted the attention of many, even august foodie magazines such as Food & Wine, which usually show little interest in amusement park fare.
“Once upon a time, theme park food meant hamburgers, hot dogs, and turkey legs. Times have changed, and so have menus,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote in its release announcing the award. “Disneyland now has so many meat-, egg-, and dairy-free options that PETA has named it America’s “Most Vegan-Friendly Amusement Park.”
You can still buy a turkey leg, but Disneyland Resort head chef John State said he realizes that more people are eating plant-based foods these days for a variety of reasons, including their health. He declined specifically to comment on the PETA designation — perhaps because the organization can be controversial — but he said his team has been responding to requests from park guests for healthier cuisine.
“Our guests have been very vocal that they want to continue their healthy lifestyles while they’re on vacation,” said State, who’s executive chef of the Disneyland Resort. “Over the last two years, we’ve been working to change our chef’s mindsets toward menu development (for example, finding a plant-based option to using pork belly).”
The demand for vegan foods must be weighed against other needs, including those of meat-eating guests, as well as difficulty that a large business such as Disneyland can have locating and buying enough affordable ingredients in a marketplace that’s still mostly devoted to meat, cream and cheese.
Visitors who eat plant-based are thinking about what they want before they arrive at both the theme parks and the Disneyland hotels, and asking for what they want, he said.
“We’re still learning how to find the resources out there for ingredients, especially cheese, which seems to only be available in retail quantities,” State said. He said that recently there appears to “finally be enough demand out there” to buy products in the quantities he needs.
Hit movies such as “Forks Over Knives” and “What the Health” have sparked greater interest in eschewing animal products for health reasons, while the number of vegans for all reasons including ethical ones continues to grow, particularly among millennials.
The influential Baum & Whiteman restaurant report for 2018 cited the “rapid consumer shift to plant-based foods,” reporting that some 6 percent of North Americans say they’re vegetarian, 3 percent say they’re vegan — but “83 (percent) of U.S. consumers are adding plant-based foods to their diets to improve health and nutrition.” And that there was a 257 percent increase in grocery store products claiming to be vegan between 2012 and 2016.
The Food and Wine Festival underway now at Disney California Adventure offers some vegan options, including a cauliflower ceviche and a meatball sandwich made with the fake soy-based meat made popular by the Impossible Burger. Meat eaters would be hard pressed to tell the difference.
Disneyland’s vegan food still relies largely on meat substitutes, which tend to be heavily processed and eschewed by some people who eat plants for their health, but items such as the cauliflower ceviche send a message to the public that more options are becoming available.
HappyCow.net — arguably the Web’s most influential vegan and vegetarian restaurant finder — lists Alien Pizza Planet at Disneyland as one of its vegan possibilities, suggesting the spaghetti marinara, because, they said, the pizza crust isn’t vegan — though a reader responded that you can request a pizza with gluten-free vegan crust and vegan cheese.
AJ Wolfe, who runs the Disneyland & DCA Foodies Facebook page, agreed that that Disney theme parks are the best for vegans, especially Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida.
“I’d have to check the menus to see which Disney theme park I’d recommend the most highly,” she said. “But Disneyland and DCA are focusing more and more on vegan options and making vegan choices more available.” She cited the Impossible Burger available during the current Food and Wine Festival at Disney California Adventure, and the vegan offerings at Harbour Galley.
“It’s an expanding point of interest for Disney food and beverage to be sure, and I don’t think it will slow down,” Wolfe said.
Teenage actress Aubrey Miller and PETA even produced a video highlighting vegan foods available at Disney.
Is Disneyland the most vegan-friendly theme park in America?