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Morality Check: 5 Fast Food Chains That Aren’t Completely Evil

If you are a normal human being, you most likely have consumed fast food in your lifetime — probably even today. Not shaming anyone here — that’s completely fine. Everyone loves a reasonably priced, quick meal when life gets busy, but some fast food corporations have made some ethically questionable choices to get ahead of the game. “Big fast food” is a major transgressor in terms of staggering water use and contamination, deforestation, biodiversity loss, antibiotic resistance and animal cruelty on a global scale.

Of course, it’s impractical to expect the masses to boycott every fast food chain, so where is an ethical, morally-responsible consumer to go? The search was grueling, but I managed to compile a list of fast food corporations that actually go out of their way to do some good.

1. Jimmy John’s

This “freaky fast” sandwich chain has successfully established a place among the fast food giants with their philosophy of a simple menu, prompt service, and friendliness. Though the franchise is growing nationwide, Jimmy John’s strives to stay local and strengthen the communities where they set up shop. Each location sources its products from local farmers, and most of their packaging is made from recycled, earth-friendly materials. Their sustainability efforts are quite impressive. You can learn more about their suppliers and sustainability efforts here. Big fast food corporations should take notes.

2. Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers

This midwestern fast food company from Wichita, Kansas has been privately-owned and family-oriented since it was founded in 2002. The chain’s namesake and cofounder Freddy Simon is a World War II Veteran and purple-heart recipient, and thus their values are placed in “optimism, patriotism and tradition.” The chain places a heavy emphasis on fresh, quality food that is always cooked-to-order, which means the food you ingest hasn’t been sitting out for hours for a bunch of flies to munch on. Also, they managed to introduce the first PETA-approved vegan-friendly veggie burger for all the animal-lovers out there so they win major bonus points for that. 

3. Runza

This fast food chain was founded in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1949 by Sally Everett, expanded by her son, and is currently being run by her grandchildren. The German sandwich for which the franchise is named after comes from a decades old recipe, but the food served is prepared fresh every morning. Runza can only be found in the midwest because the owners chose not to go national in order to ensure freshness in their ingredients. Once a year they host Runza Feeds the Need, an annual fundraiser where the restaurant donates 10% of sales to local programs that are focused on youth hunger and food insecurity.

4. Panda Express

This popular Chinese fast food chain is still family-owned and operated by husband and wife college sweethearts Andrew and Peggy Cherng. No franchising is allowed, so the company owns and operates all stores. For a fast food company, they are surprisingly health-conscious and have no added msgs in their food. They also offer PETA- approved vegan options. They treat their employees well and host programs where they can do Zumba, hear motivational speeches, and learn self-defense. Panda Cares, the philanthropic arm of Panda Express has raised over 140 million dollars in the past twenty years to support youth in their communities and worldwide disaster relief. The company is continuously working on its sustainability efforts, including the use of commercially compostable packaging, oil recycling, and energy efficient buildings wherever and whenever possible. 

5. Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen

Popeye’s is a chain that has recently gained tremendous momentum with the release of their chicken sandwich, a rival to that of Chik-fil-a’s. Now this is an interesting moral dilemma. Popeye’s has not been completely cleared as “evil-free” because there is some speculation as to whether they may be using undocumented immigrants for cheap labor. However, the success of Popeye’s means the decline of Chik-fil-a, a company that has repeatedly been caught funding anti-LGBTQ organizations in the past. Popeye’s has also released an animal welfare statement that promises to “ensure the ethical, humane treatment of chickens supplied to our restaurants by only using suppliers that meet or exceed industry guidelines.” Yes, it is vague, but it’s more than any of the other huge, national corporations have promised, and they haven’t been caught funding any awful, homophobic organizations as of late which is why they make the list.

It is increasingly hard to remain morally and ethically conscious in a world seemingly built on consumerism, capitalism, and convenience. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of avoiding fast food like the plague, be it for monetary reasons, a busy schedule, or an overwhelming craving for a grease-soaked heart attack to-go. But if you would like to assuage your guilty conscience as well as your appetite, then look into choosing some fast food options that are actively seeking to prevent the destruction of the planet and the human spirit.