A spokesman for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church said yesterday that the church is not participating in a vegetarian boycott of Burger King restaurants, described yesterday in Washington Business. Though the denomination encourages vegetarianism and some of its members are involved in the boycott, the church does not endorse the tactic.
One of Washington's least known pressure groups disclosed last week that it is singlehandedly revolutionizing the fast-food industry and simultaneously trying to destroy an American institution as sacred as apple pie.
A hotbed of vegetarian vigilantes known as the International Burger King Boycott Coalition proclaimed that "in the last 18 months the coalition has accounted for: The withdrawl of veal from more than two-thirds of the Burger King stores, a decline of 85 percent in Burger King's sales of veal, the introduction of a Burger King salad bar, the test marketing of salad bars by McDonald's, the addition of strawberries, pineapple and peas by Wendy's and fresh fruit additions at the Big Boy chain."
Not only that, says vegetarian voice Nellie Shriver of Takoma Park, but pressure from the militant anti-meat movement is what lead Greyhound Corp. to decide to sell its Armour meat-packing plants.
I have to admit up front that I am an unreconstructed meat eater, a self-confessed carnivore, a shameless consumer of hot animal flesh, preferably medium rare. So I found this vegetarian victory statement a little hard to swallow. Either my fellow meat eaters in the media were covering up a powerful multinational movement or the garden-variety guerrillas were trying to feed me vegetarian baloney.
Evidence? I asked a slightly nervous Nellie. What evidence is there that your group "has accounted for" the virtual eradication of Burger King's veal sandwich and the impending exile of Armour to hotdog heaven?
She explained that the militant vegetarians have been picketing, protesting and pummeling Burger King with letters for months, demanding freedom for veal. Eating a Burger King veal parmigiana sandwich constitutes cruelty to veal calves, she said (not mentioning what it might do to your stomach). The burger boycotters have also written McDonald's and the other fast-food franchisers urging them to offer meatless alternatives to all-beef patties, etc.
"These changes have all come about since our letters," she assured me.
As for Armour, Shriver said, Greyhound announced plans to sell its meat packing plants only four days after newspapers in Phoenix, its hometown, carried a story revealing the company was a target of the vegetarian vigilantes. "Greyhound does not want to be identified with the meat industry," she insisted.
The folks at Greyhound say the move to dump Armour began long before the vegetarians sprouted in Arizona. "It is a matter of simple economics," said John W. Keets, Greyhound's chairman. "Armour Food Company pays an average $18 an hour in wage and fringe benefits compared to less than $9 an hour . . . paid by some 300 or 400 other packers."
The official Burger King response was more blunt: "That's ridiculous," said a representative when asked about the claim that Burger King had been cowed by the vegetarians. "We are dropping veal from many of our locations, but it's a marketing decision. It has not been caused by the so-called veal boycott. They picketed a couple of our stores, but it had no affect whatsoever."
Another source familiar with the Burger King decision also dismissed the impact of the boycott on veal sandwich sales. "You want to know why they dropped the veal? Did you ever taste it?" he asked.
The veal burger isn't the only fast-food to flop recently. McDonald's McChicken didn't fly and the company makes no bones about McRib, a pressed-pork and sauce sandwich that left a multimillion dollar bad taste at McDonald's. Nobody had to organize a boycott to get rid of them; consumers simply turned up their noses.
When you look closer, it turns out it's not the Burger King who has no clothes, but the boycotters who are making naked claims.
Let us not laugh off this vegetarian hyberbole as a just another fish story, an outrageous example of Washington influence peddlers exaggerating their clout.
More is at stake than mere veal parmigiana. The burger boycotters not only want to free the veal, they say they want to wipe out hamburgers and eventually all meat.
"Anything as energy intensive and land intensive as meat should be phased out," said Shriver. "I know that the meat industry is going to drop into the sea. It's inevitable."
Maybe she thinks its inevitable, but to a lot of us, the alternative is inedible. Hamburgers are as American as apple pie and so is the right to look over the menu and make your own choice.
There is always room for new entrees in the cafeteria of ideas we call America, but the militant vegetarians are not content to offer us samples of their soyburgers, sprouts, and rhetorical fare.
Their exaggerated claims about the success of the burger boycott ought to be a warning: anybody who will claim credit for things they didn't do can just as easily deny responsibility for what they are doing.
The vegetarian vigilantes aren't merely exercising their constitutional right to express their opinion, they are seeking to impose their personal tastes on the rest of us. Much of their motivation, regrettably, is religious; Shriver said the boycott is being led by Seventh Day Adventists, Hindus and Buddhists--vegetarians all.
Laughter may be the best medicine, but boycotting burgers is no joke.
We all have our sacred cows. I cherish the right to eat mine.