Much has been said about supporting Burger King because they now offer a product erroneously dubbed the "BK Veggie Burger".
The burger is cooked on the same grill as the meat, unless one knows to ask for a special order microwave-heated burger. The strict or religious vegetarian will have to request special treatment; she must feel comfortable with microwaved food; and, of course, she will have to know to ask.
Even if all these factors are met, the vegan will have to bring her own bread: Burger King's buns contain butter.
Butter comes from an industry which exploits the reproductive cycles of cows throughout their lives. An enterprise which directly results in the production of veal.
Friends of Animals, a pro-feminist group, observes that criticism of meat production without criticism of dairy production trivializes a serious concern about the exploitation of female animals.
Unfortunately we have been informed that some animal protection groups — groups who have admitted, in public statements, that they know the "veggie" item contains animal products — are urging people to become customers of Burger King. For example, in the BK Veggie Art Contest described at www.peta.org/feat/bkartcontest/index.html, one animal protection group offers rewards of Burger King parties and meals throughout the summer months.
To enter the contest, you must be 18 or under. We find it incomprehensible that an animal protection group would emulate the tactics of major fast-food companies: persuading parents to frequent burger restaurants by enticing their children. The contest even gets children to act as little advertisers for Burger King, as they "design an eye-catching advertisement" for this multinational giant.
Some animal protection groups believe that, by supporting Burger King's product, they encourage children to become vegetarian. Although such claims may be well-meaning, they are speculative at best. The outcome may well be precisely the opposite. Many young children have an aversion to meat, but acquire the taste by being introduced to it in the highly processed and brightly-packaged form offered by fast-food vendors such as Burger King.
And all this bright packaging comes in vast amounts, for customers who discard it in minutes. What are the environmental effects of all this manufacture and disposal? Can any multinational company operating on this scale not contribute to global warming, ozone depletion, and the ruin of natural habitats?
Gardener Helen Steel and mail carrier Dave Morris spent two and a half years in litigation because they dared to publicly oppose the wreckage of the planet caused by the burger moguls. Although they received worldwide support, they were up against enormous vested interests. Friends of Animals received reports that Dave and his son have since been threatened with eviction from their home, as burger restaurants gained ever more wealth throughout the world. An informative Web site tells the story of Helen and Dave, and includes a page named "What's Wrong with Burger King" to outline the findings of the Ethical Consumer Research Association regarding Burger King. Please go to: www.mcspotlight.org/beyond/companies/bking.html
For another take on the issue read "Burger King Introduces the Veggie Burger That Ain't " from the California-based group Vegetarians in Paradise. The article can be accessed at: www.vegparadise.com/news15.html. They note the response Burger King gave them when they called the corporate headquarters, "The Burger King VeggieBurger is not positioned to be a vegetarian or vegan burger. It was designed to be a meatless alternative."
The Burger King contest invitation tells us that "all entries are welcome" as long as the artist is 18 or younger. But what about children who are ethical vegans: will they be told to bring their own bread to these parties? What about contest entries from Hindu children?
These children will no doubt wonder why the contest seems to endorse the idea that animal products can be knowingly and deliberately included in a diet that respects animals.
Of course, Friends of Animals understands the reality that the general public is unlikely to achieve vegetarianism overnight. We also understand that no one of us is perfect. But it is our role to show people, as clearly as we can, what ethical vegetarianism is. It is not "elitist" or "exclusive" to think that the ideal is a vegetarian diet. The inclusive thing to do is to serve food at parties that everyone — including religious and ethical vegetarian children — can enjoy together, without being made to feel different because they are vegetarians. The animal protection movement could find many ways to support vegetarianism that don't involve trying to make parties at burger restaurants seem cool.
Last year, a front page headline in the Sunday New York Times announced: "For Hindus and Vegetarians, Surprise in McDonald's Fries". Brij Sharma and other Hindus were horrified to learn that McDonald's had regularly seasoned their potatoes with animal products. We often believe that our government will protect the consumer from food fraud. But it took a lawsuit from distraught Hindus to get the attention of McDonald's.
How much sadder if ethical and religious vegetarians have to sue animal protection groups for misleading the public about the ingredients in Burger King products.
Friends of Animals urges vegetarians to be aware of the ingredients of the products which are pushed to us. We urge vegetarians to support our local vegetarian restaurants and co-ops, helping them to survive and thrive in an environment which has, so far, become increasingly occupied by fast-food multinationals.
See you at dinner,
President, Friends of Animals