Could the Chicken Run sequel inspire a new generation of vegans and vegetarians? According to some of the film’s creators and many vegan activists, it’s a real possibility. After all, the movie lifts the curtain to show the reality behind many kids’ favorite dinner: chicken nuggets.

Just over two decades ago, the first Chicken Run hit cinemas for the first time. The movie—which sees chickens escape from an English farm before they are turned into pot pies—was a global success, and to this day, remains the highest-grossing stop-motion animated film of all time.

The second film, which will be released December 15 on Netflix, follows the same gang of chickens as they attempt to break into a factory farm to save their fellow birds from becoming nuggets. It is set in the 1950s, which is the same decade the chicken nugget was invented by food scientist Robert C. Baker.

“We want the film to be engaging and entertaining and a great ride, mostly,” Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget director Sam Fell said, per the Guardian. “But yes, if you come away and you think a little bit more like a chicken by the end of it, then that’s not a bad thing.”

According to reports, Fell also turned vegetarian during the making of the film.

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“[Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget] will have an impact,” added writer Jon Ronson, who co-scripted another vegan Netflix film, Okja. “It sounds quite upsetting and traumatizing but I trust [film studio] Aardman to do it in a fun way. All over the world, you’ve got these vast numbers of animals confined indoors. Art is supposed to reflect a dark reality. So all power to them.”

Where do chicken nuggets really come from?

Since the ’50s, billions of chickens have been slaughtered for the fast-food industry. 

Nowadays, most spend their lives on factory farms, where they have little more room than the size of an A4 piece of paper to turn around.

In the US, research suggests that 99 percent of animal products come from animals that were raised in industrialized factory farm conditions.

McDonald’s is one of the world’s biggest buyers of chicken meat. Its McNuggets, which hit menus in the ’80s, are one of its best-selling menu items. 

“Chickens killed for McDonald’s spend their lives crammed inside massive windowless sheds, pressed up against each other, standing in their own waste, and breathing ammonia-filled air,” says animal-rights organization PETA in its McCruelty campaign, which is targetted specifically at McDonald’s.

But the fast-food giant is far from alone—KFC’s main product is, of course, chicken. And Burger King, Wendy’s, and Pizza Hut all offer nugget options. The global chicken nugget market is worth $448 million, according to Future Market Insights. By 2033, it could exceed $708 million. But there is an alternative: nuggets, without the chicken.

The rise in vegan chicken nugget options

Matthew Glover, co-founder of Veganuary and vegan chicken brand VFC, believes Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is about to send vegan nugget sales through the roof. 

“We’re expecting a surge in vegan chicken nuggets from next Wednesday onwards,” he posted on LinkedIn. As the name indicates, VFC specializes in realistic-tasting vegan versions of KFC products, including Chick’n Fillets, Popcorn Chick’n, and Chick’n Tenders, all made with plant-based ingredients.

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VFC is in good company. The vegan chicken market is booming and nuggets are one of the industry’s most popular products. They’re more accessible than ever; in some fast food chains (looking at you, Burger King), you can even find vegan nuggets on the menu alongside traditional animal-based options. For those who love Chicken Run, vegan brand The Fry Family Food Co. has even teamed up with Aardman to launch Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget limited edition vegan nuggets in the UK.

Vegan nuggets are undoubtedly popular because they taste very similar to traditional chicken nuggets. But as well as being a more ethical choice, they’re also better for our health and the environment, too.

Eating significant amounts of processed meat is linked with an increased risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. However, in 2022, one review from Bath University concluded that “plant-based dietary alternatives to animal products are better for the environment and for human health when compared with the animal products they are designed to replace.”

Vegan nuggets also don’t require the use of animal agriculture, which, research suggests, is responsible for 14.5 percent of global emissions (for context, aviation is responsible for 2 percent). Meat production is also a leading contributor to issues like deforestation, water pollution, and habitat destruction.

The meat industry is also associated with human rights abuse, too. Earlier this year, it was reported that Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms, two major chicken processors, were under federal investigation for alleged child labor.

“We do a lot of disassociating from our feelings about food in general,” vegan cookbook author Richard Makin—who is hoping that the new Chicken Run sequel will leave a lasting impact on viewers—told The Guardian. “We can’t all cope with the emotions that come with knowing about the human or animal suffering involved in an industrialized food system.”

“We all do a lot of blinkering and unlearning,” he added. “Perhaps we should look to children more as I think how they feel when they first learn where meat comes from is probably what a lot of us feel deep down.”

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget will hit Netflix on December 15, 2023. 

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