I'm not sure how many vegans or vegetarians eat at McDonald's, but I do still meet some who think that the result of the McDonald's french fry lawsuit was that McDonald's changed to a vegetarian recipe. McDonald's did end up paying $10 million as a result of that litigation, but they did not change their recipe.
In case you haven't heard, McDonald's was sued in 2001 when it was discovered that the "natural flavor" in their french fries contained beef extract, after they'd been telling customers that the french fries were vegetarian. A class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of vegetarians and McDonald's settled for $10 million, with $6 million going to vegetarian organizations.
When several vegans and vegetarians told me that the french fries are now vegan and/or vegetarian, I had to double check. As of today, the ingredients are listed as:
Potatoes, vegetable oil (canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor [wheat and milk derivatives]*, citric acid [preservative]), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain color), salt. Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.
CONTAINS: WHEAT AND MILK.
*(Natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients).
This led to some debate, as some thought that the "natural beef flavor" contained only wheat and milk. So I contacted the company through their website and they provided this reply:
With regard to our French fries, any customer in the U.S. who contacts McDonald's USA to ask if they contain beef flavoring is told "yes." For flavor enhancement, in the U.S., McDonald's French fry suppliers use a very small amount of beef flavor as a natural flavoring during the par-frying process at the potato processing plant. In the restaurant, the French fries are cooked in vegetable oil.
In addition, we have no plans to change the way we prepare our French fries in the U.S. However, it is important to know that our French fries are prepared differently in other countries.
It's disappointing that they think they need to put dead cows into something that could be perfectly vegan and delicious with just potatoes, oil and salt. Not that I'd eat there, anyway.