I asked for veggie burgers. Now I’m public enemy No. 1


When I opened Facebook, I found a message directing me to eat a very sensitive part of the male anatomy between two slices of bread and expressing the fervent hope that I would soon get run over.

That was one of many Facebook screeds calling me: un-American, a fascist, a moron, delusional, an imbecile, fanatical, disgusting, disgraceful, a control-freak sociopath and the worst part of the human race.

One person said that “the government needs to investigate” my organization for fraud. Another wrote, “I will do everything in my power to put you out of business.”

What did I do to unleash this online vitriol? Did I kick a puppy on YouTube? Shred a painting of Ronald Reagan? Star in the female version of “Ghostbusters”?

None of the above. All I did was ask In-N-Out Burger to add a veggie burger to its menu. I did so in my capacity as communications manager for the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes alternatives to animal-based meat, dairy and eggs.

My change.org petition elicited more than 30,000 signatures quickly, but something about the request unsettled quite a few of the burger joint’s fans, with many letting me know, often with the creative use of multiple obscenities for emphasis, that this petition has threatened their most deeply held values.

According to angry carnivores, this seemingly benign and completely inanimate food item (a veggie burger) has some pretty nefarious intentions. It turns out veggie burgers persecute religious groups (“You’re attacking a CHRISTIAN BUSINESS and it is WRONG”), seek to destroy American values and are hell-bent on ruining everyone’s good time.

There were actually some arguments among the expletives. One of the more common suggestions was that having a veggie burger at a fast-food restaurant is “like asking a steakhouse to offer something besides steak.” I have yet to see this steakhouse that serves nothing but steak, but I suppose if one exists, it would probably turn a higher profit by diversifying the menu a bit. Veggie burgers are already quite popular at classic chains such as Burger King, Johnny Rockets, Denny’s, Ruby Tuesday and White Castle.

Besides, lots of consumers dabble in tofu, tempeh and seitan at lunch, even if they turn to poultry, pork and red meat at dinner. The meat-alternatives market is projected to reach $5.17 billion by 2020, and the trade journal Meatingplace is encouraging the entire meat industry to develop plant-based proteins. The reasons for this shift are numerous, with concerns including human health, animal welfare and the environmental consequences of meat production.

Adding a meat alternative to the menu harms no one, helps many and provides a phenomenal opportunity for In-N-Out to do good while doing even better financially than they already are.

Seriously, what’s more American (and less fascistic) than that?

Of course, my organization is not asking In-N-Out to remove any choices from its menu. And for the multiple Facebook commenters who accused us of “forcing our lifestyle down other people’s throat — literally”: You know we can’t compel you to eat anything, right?

But there is one more, quite insidious harm a veggie burger might wreak upon our nation that I’ll admit we had failed to consider. We have learned that this single menu addition could lead to In-N-Out, and quite possibly the whole country, becoming “a gender-free, multicultural safespace to cuddle in” that’s populated by “the worst types of humans.”

C’mon, no one is standing in the way of you and your double-double order. Why so many people would get so worked up over someone wanting to buy a different burger is beyond me. But then again I’m a narcissistic liberal and soft vegan nerd.

Emily Byrd is the California-based communications manager for the Good Food Institute.

©2016 Los Angeles Times