We’re not fast food fans. FoodFacts.com has detailed the long lists of controversial ingredients and copious amounts of fat, salt and sugar contained in the majority of fast food options available to consumers. Nutritional benefits and fast foods are not synonymous. While major chains have added salads to their menus in hopes of finding an audience of more health-conscious consumers, a little digging will tell anyone that even those salads leave something to be desired. And if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, those are your only options at some of those restaurants. And McDonald’s is one of them.
McDonald’s introduced a veggie burger in the early 2000’s, but it failed to gain a following. But health and wellness author and activist Kathy Freston, believes it’s time for that veggie burger to make a comeback.
She has collected more than 90,000 signatures for a petition urging McDonald’s to debut a vegetarian burger. Adding some publicity wattage to the campaign are celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Russell Simmons, Pamela Anderson and Alicia Silverstone, who have supported the effort on social media.
It remains to be seen whether McDonald’s will listen the way Taco Bell did when an Arkansas man embarked on a decidedly less health-conscious Facebook campaign to marry Doritos chips with Taco Bell tacos. The resulting Doritos Locos Tacos have been one of the chain’s best-selling products ever.
Will McDonald’s consider the petition? A spokeswoman didn’t reveal much: “In our experience, menu items at McDonald’s are most successful when enough customers choose to select them,” she said in response to questions. “It allows us to ensure freshness of ingredients and overall quality of the food item. We’ll continue to evolve our menu to meet the changing preferences of our customers.”
Those healthy eaters haven’t been going to McDonald’s very much. The chain has rolled out a number of salads in recent years, but the company has said that salads make up only 2% to 3% of U.S. sales.
Ms. Freston, a vegan, said she wouldn’t eat salads at McDonald’s either, because they’re not filling. A non-beef protein patty, she said, would leave people feeling satiated. Ms. Freston, a regular talk-show guest who has penned several bestsellers, said she was motivated to start the petition on Change.org because she travels a lot and would love to pop into a McDonald’s to find something she could eat.
She points out that rivals like Burger King, Subway and Denny’s offer vegetable-based protein patties and that Chipotle has recently added tofu as an option to its burritos. She says McDonald’s recent admission that it has lost relevance with consumers could be rectified, in part, by becoming more vegetarian- and vegan-friendly.
“They’re not only not getting the new customers who are health-minded, they’re losing customers to competitors,” says Ms. Freston, who has been tweeting her plea but says she hasn’t gotten a response from McDonald’s.
McDonald’s restaurants in Canada began offering vegetarian snack wraps in August. “People always ask for the veggie burger. So this we’re going to surprise them,” McDonald’s Canada CEO John Betts was quoted as saying at the time.
In the U.S., for now, McDonald’s says vegans and vegetarians can customize orders to be made without meat. Ms. Freston doesn’t think that goes far enough. “I hope they know McLettuce won’t do the trick! I would love to meet with McDonald’s because they seem to mistakenly believe that a healthy plant-based option means eating a tortilla with lettuce,” she says.
We do need to point out that the veggie burger offered at Burger King is not the healthiest choice. A quick look at the ingredient list tells a story of numerous controversial items with an unhealthy dose of sodium. So we’re not quite sure that a similar effort from McDonald’s would tell a different story.
But in fairness to vegetarians everywhere who might like additional choices, this does appear to be an idea that McDonald’s should be willing to get behind. They may find that in 2014, a veggie burger might be more enthusiastically embraced than it was at the beginning of the new century. Times change and staying relevant requires the ability to change right along with them.
If you’d like to add your voice to Kathy Freston’s position, click here to sign: https://www.change.org/petitions/mcdonald-s-it-s-time-for-a-healthy-meatless-option