Fast Food Forward, Please

By Liz Welsh and Kathy Guillermo

Fast food restaurants take a lot of heat. They are blamed for demolishing
rainforests, contributing to the obesity epidemic, pushing cholesterol-laden,
high fat food on kids and abusing animals.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals thinks at least one national
chain deserves some credit for moving in the right direction. The rest of
them need a nudge foward.

Burger King has just introduced the BK Veggie burger at all of its 8,500 U.S.
restaurants. It's a move long-awaited by vegetarians who like the occasional
fast food fix and are tired of buns with only lettuce, tomato and pickle.

Even Whopper lovers may appreciate the BK Veggie, not just because it's lower
in calories and fat, but because it tastes good.

Of course, PETA would like to see all fast food chains (and all restaurants
for that matter) offer only veggie fare. We believe it's wrong to imprison
animals and slaughter them for food we'd be better off without. But we also
believe in showing gratitude when someone takes compassionate steps.

The introduction of the Veggie follows Burger King's agreement to improve
conditions for the animals killed to stock its freezers. After PETA's 1,000
demonstrations outside, inside, and even on top of Burger King restaurants
throughout North America last year, the corporation promised to allow laying
hens more space, phase out buying eggs from factory farmers who starve hens
for days to encourage laying, make unannounced checks on slaughterhouses and
other improvements.

McDonald's and Wendy's also committed to these improvements, which will ease
the lives of millions of animals. But where are their veggie burgers? Are
their market researchers out to lunch?

More than 17 million Americans now call themselves vegetarian and it's a good
bet that many of them eat out occasionally. Restaurants USA magazine told
restaurateurs that they "would be wise to cultivate a green thumb" to cater
to the 57 percent of Americans who "sometimes, often or always" order
meat-free meals when dining out. In addition to Burger King, Denny's, Johnny
Rockets, Bennigan's, Ruby Tuesday and Houston's offer veggie burgers. Many
baseball stadiums offer meat-free hot dogs and burgers.

The latest edition of the Boy Scout handbook advises scouts to consider using
tofu instead of meat in campfire stews. Meals on Wheels, a charity that
provides meals to elderly and housebound people, offers animal-free fare. In
response to growing demand, the U.S. army has added vegetarian options to
their ration packs.

NASA-funded researchers at Cornell University who are designing recipes for
future lunar and Martian colonies are choosing only vegetarian foods.
Astronauts will be trained to grow wheat, potatoes, soybeans, melons and
other crops on space farms and prepare foods like bell pepper-filled fajitas
topped with soy sour "cream" and tofu "cheese" cake.

So come on, Wendy's and McDonald's, do your best. Millions of vegetarians
would like to dine in your restaurants. A veggie burger is the invitation we
need.

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