New York (CNN Business)So, Cracker Barrel … It’s a restaurant you traditionally go to after church to eat an unholy amount of biscuits and gravy while your grandma stocks up country-themed tchotchkes and gingham-printed novelty dish towels embroidered with nonsense like “happiness is homemade.”
At least that’s my memory of it.
Point is, it’s a wholesome place. But leave it to Facebook commenters to turn it into a battleground of the Great American Culture Wars.
Here’s the deal: Cracker Barrel added Impossible sausage to its menus. Perhaps because they realized (20 years too late, in my case) that they weren’t really providing for the growing number of vegetarians and vegans in America who, like, occasionally are also hungry.
But of the more ravenous carnivores out there didn’t like the addition of “fake” meat, and they didn’t hold back in their Facebook comments replying to Cracker Barrel’s post announcing the update. A sampling:
“I just lost respect for a once great Tennessee company.”
“Stop with the plant based ‘meat’ crap.”
Several commenters decried the menu addition as “woke,” an anti-racist term that has been co-opted into a pejorative against progressive actions and beliefs.
To be clear, Cracker Barrel isn’t replacing its meat sausages with veggie alternatives. It’s not mandatory or anything, as hundreds of other commenters noted in their retorts…
“It’s amazing the snowflakes here getting triggered by a meat alternative showing up on a menu. Y’all can still order regular meat, you know that right?”
Ironically, an Impossible sausage is supposed to look and taste just like a real meat sausage — it’s designed to pass for meat, not make an obvious statement against it. A Cracker Barrel customer who is appalled by the new menu item likely wouldn’t realize if his neighbor got an Impossible sausage instead of a regular one. He might not even realize if the imposter product appeared on his own plate.
Cracker Barrel, naturally, stayed neutral, replying that, “The menu is always changing, but our love for our customers never will.”
BOTTOM LINE: It’s a silly story, of course. No one’s really going to boycott the restaurant over this. But it’s a fun/slightly horrifying glimpse at the way social media both magnifies and deepens cultural divisions on issues as minor as what someone chooses to eat for breakfast.
Over-the-top social media reactions to food news are common — so common that it’s spawned conspiracy theories that some changes are just stunts. After one well-known ice cream maker confirmed the death of its famous chocolate taco, some wondered whether the move was just a hoax designed to create hype around the product. Choco Taco truthers are predicting a well-timed resurrection, after people realize just how much they love and miss the sweet treat. (Choco Taco’s maker Klondike said this week that the reaction has made it reconsider its plans).
Companies are definitely paying attention to what customers are saying about their products online. That’s why we had a Taco Bell Hotel, for a brief, strange, shining moment in time.
Effusive online ribbing can be a good thing for big restaurant chains and food makers. But it can also be toxic, like when hateful comments appeared online for mom-and-pop restaurants over their Covid-19 vaccination policies.
At the end of the day, Cracker Barrel’s move is a shrewd business decision.
The global plant-based meat market is expected to be valued at around $25 billion by 2030 — there’s clearly demand for it. And Cracker Barrel isn’t exactly breaking new ground here: Burger King has the Impossible Whopper; McDonald’s is working on its own version with Beyond Meat; even meat purveyor Tyson has its own chicken-less chicken products.
And what red-blooded American would have beef with a restaurant making such a purely capitalist decision?
— CNN Business’ Danielle Wiener-Bronner contributed to this analysis