Pokémon: Meat Culture Strikes Back

A thing you have to know about me is that I am incredibly susceptible to messaging from documentary films. When I was in middle school, I refused to eat at McDonald’s after I watched the documentary Super Size Me. While the film specifically called out the fast food industry for selling unhealthy food, it could just have easily been about eating all sorts of processed foods, or how unhealthy it is to eat so much meat. Years later, my girlfriend and I decided to try going vegan after we watched the documentary The Game Changers, which interrogated the myth that eating meat leads to strength and muscles in athletes. We decided to do a vegan January (“Veganuary"), and when January ended, we just didn't stop.

I expected to miss meat and cheese and eggs more than I have—it’s amazing how many TV commercials revolve around the concept of meat—but truthfully my resolve wasn't tested until the Pokémon Happy Meal at McDonald’s. And then, of course, it was less about the six-piece chicken McNugget meal and more about the 4-pack of collectable Pokémon cards contained within.

This past weekend marked the 25th anniversary of the Pokémon franchise, which kicked off in Japan with the release of the first set of Game Boy games in 1996. Since then, Pokémon has spawned anime TV and film series, manga, a trading card game, gadgets, untold amounts of toys and clothing, all in addition to the core video game series, now in its eighth generation. This, plus $3 million in jet aircraft sales, has made Pokémon today’s highest-grossing media franchise.

Part of Pokémon’s staying power has been its lasting appeal to both children and adults. While the primary audience of the franchise will always be kids, The Pokémon Company has carefully trafficked in nostalgia dating back as early as 2004, when it re-made the original Game Boy games in the style of the then-current third generation of games. Remakes have since become a major feature of the Pokémon video game franchise—a remake of the fourth generation of games was just announced last week as part of this year’s 25th anniversary celebration.

Unsurprisingly, the vast age range of fans leads to some tension in the Pokémon community, succinctly encapsulated by this surreal moment from the rapper Post Malone’s virtual Pokémon concert:

So what could go wrong with including limited edition collectable Pokémon cards in Happy Meals? Lots, natch. Sealed boxes of cards ended up on eBay, completely bypassing stores, while scalpers and collectors and Twitch streamers mass-purchased meals, leaving locations completely devoid of cards and disappointing countless kids. To add insult to injury, some of them tossed the food. While there's nothing wrong with adults collecting toys or cards, it's always frustrating to watch adults act like they are somehow more entitled to them.

I’m saying that, of course, because I like Pokémon cards, and while vegetarian and vegan options are proliferating in chain restaurants across the country, McDonald’s does not have any non-meat options for Happy Meals. The best they can do is a bag of apple slices.

What were my options? I could get a Happy Meal and toss the food, making me no better than the common scalper. I could trawl eBay for packs, financially supporting those scalpers. I asked friends for help—if you were thinking about getting some nuggets anytime soon, could you grab me a pack? Ha, they responded. Maybe. I was fighting a war against Big Meat, and Big Meat was winning.

Luckily, my mom reads the news:

A week later:

Meat Culture has no more Pokémon that can fight!

Meat Culture blacked out.

Meat Culture paid out two packs of Pokémon cards to the winner.