What does 'plant-based' really mean at Disney?

August 30, 2023, 3:02 PM · What do you think the phrase "plant-based" means, when it comes to food?

If you have visited a Disney theme park recently, you might have seen that phrase on several of Disney's menus. Just this week, Disney used to its social media to promote top 5 plant-based items for fall at the Disneyland Resort, but a couple of Disney's selection caught my eye - and not in a good way.

Disneyland promoted its Soy Chorizo Country Breakfast Burrito, which Disney listed as including egg and cheddar cheese, and a Plant-based Chorizo Quesadilla, which it said included mozzarella and cilantro crema.

Egg, cheese, and crema - of course - are not plant-based ingredients, but animal products. No, they are not flesh meat that requires killing an animal to produce, so products containing these ingredients could be acceptable to many vegetarians. But they would not be acceptable to vegans, who do not consume any animal products. Disney's use of the phrase "plant-based" to describe dishes that list the names of animal products as ingredients creates confusion as to whether Disney is using vegan substitutes for those items or the actual animal products. And since some vegan substitutes can trigger allergies, that's a red flag for people with those concerns.

Language should clarify and inform, but Disney's is just confusing in these cases.

Before I go any further, I want to note that Disney almost always has been great in dealing with dietary restrictions, in my experience. I have family members with celiac and others who are vegan or vegetarian. Cast members at Disney's theme parks frequently ask about dietary restrictions and make chefs available to guests to talk about how Disney can meet their specific dietary needs.

But as Disney has shifted more of its quick service locations to mobile ordering, that human interaction has dropped from many guests' experience. Instead, Disney is using vague phrases such as "plant based" and "gluten friendly" on their mobile ordering menus to steer people with dietary preferences to certain food products.

Notice, however, that I just wrote dietary "preferences" and not "restrictions."

If you are vegan, I would not rely on Disney's description of a dish as "plant-based" to confirm that it does not contain any animal products. And if I had celiac, I would not trust any item labeled as "gluten friendly." I would want to speak with a chef to ensure that everything I ordered would, in fact, be gluten free and not subject to cross-contamination in the kitchen. Same for people with allergies. Yes, many of Disney's labeled dishes likely are safe for you, but "likely" isn't good enough for people with actual dietary restrictions, not just preferences.

So allow me to use this forum to offer this reminder. If you have dietary restrictions, skip mobile ordering. Do not rely upon Disney's menu descriptions and instead ask to speak with a chef about what you can eat safely at that restaurant. Disney has plenty of offer people with a wide variety of dietary restrictions - that's part of the reason why Walt Disney World and Disneyland have become such popular get-aways for so many.

Just make sure that you are getting what you actually need.

For more theme park news and commentary, please sign up for Theme Park Insider's weekly newsletter.

Replies (7)

August 30, 2023 at 5:25 PM

Just before we jump on the train, are they definately not vegan cheese/egg alternatives?

August 30, 2023 at 7:24 PM

This is also the problem with Universal’s mobile ordering: Any allergies, you’re better off ordering at the counter because it’s easier to get your food modified than the app(Both mobile ordering systems don’t even tell you the ingredients or allergies it might contain.

August 30, 2023 at 8:13 PM

Disney is using that term short-hand to refer to the plant-based meats in those products. You are right: not all the ingredients are plant-based, just the fake meats in them. Totally misleading if you're not paying close attention.

"If you have dietary restrictions, skip mobile ordering." That's good advice, except for the fact that locations with mobile ordering now typically have only a single cashier, and the line to see that single cashier is a mile long. So, if you need to order something not available on the app, if you have a dietary restriction, you're doomed to wait in that obnoxiously interminable line, just another instance of Disney seemingly trying to drive people away from eating the parks. I know it presumably* saves them money to not employ cashiers, but what about all the money they're losing from people driven away by mobile ordering?

(*I say presumably, because while Disneyland now employs fewer cashiers, it seems they employ far more people dedicated to managing mobile ordering--telling you not to enter until you get the message, directing you to your pick up window; etc. Are they really saving money on labor, or have they just shuffled the positions?)

@Chad To your point, there are some places that have vegan egg and cheese. The falafel stand between the Hyperion Theater and the Guardians ride, for example, has an absolute fantastic breakfast wrap with vegan egg, vegan cheese and impossible sausage that is out of this world. But it's the exception.)

August 30, 2023 at 9:20 PM

If they say "egg" and "cheddar" but are serving a vegan substitute for those, I think most folks would prefer to know specifically what substitute those are.

And if I am a non-vegan who sees "egg" and "cheddar" on a menu, but get a plant substitute instead, even if a dish is labeled "plant-based," I might be a little upset at the bait and switch.

How hard is it for Disney to be clear about what it is serving?

August 31, 2023 at 7:46 AM

Growing up in a farming community and having worked on a dairy farm for several years, I have no problem calling eggs, milk products, beef, pork, and poultry "plant-based." I just prefer to be one step removed from the plant part of the "based." ;)

August 31, 2023 at 7:58 AM

Doesn't Disney use symbols on their menus (both online and at point of sale, including at F&W Festival kiosks) to indicate when items are "vegan" and/or "gluten free"? If something is under the header of "plant based", but doesn't have a corresponding vegan symbol, then the named ingredients that are typically derived from animal sources are likely the traditional ingredients and not vegan-friendly substitutes.

For a lot of these dishes, I think it's a function of suppliers trying to get their products to be more acceptable as meat substitutes. I know for a fact that both Impossible and Beyond have done a ton a marketing in major metropolitan areas to get consumers to try their products as straight substitutes for animal proteins (Impossible Whopper is probably one of the biggest campaigns). The idea is to get people used to the taste and texture of the substitutes, and not necessarily about presenting a truly vegan dish. In my experience, non-animal based cheeses and eggs are more off-putting than plant-based animal proteins, so if those plant-based protein companies are trying to showcase their products, combining them with plant-based cheese and eggs will distract from their goal of highlighting how close to the real thing those proteins can be. I think this desire to convert more consumers to plant-based proteins has extended to chefs, who don't necessarily want to go full-vegan on dishes as a way to bridge the gap and get customers more accepting of those plant-based proteins with an eye to eventually shift those recipes to be fully vegan.

August 31, 2023 at 8:46 AM

When you are on the mobile order section of the app for WDW, and go to 'View Menu' for a location, if you scroll down to the very bottom it states "Our plant-based menu items are made without animal meat, dairy, eggs and honey." Always read the fine print. I don't have the Disneyland app, so maybe they don't list there.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive