[I wrote this back in May 2002. The veg'n community was "a buzz" with the arrival of the BK Veggie Burger. The burger made quite a stir, and invited many debates (among them, is buying one supporting BK's negative impact on society's health and our environment? Eric Marcus of the great "vegan.com" stunned many with his thoughts on the matter). I hadn't been to a fast food restaurant in years and documented what transpired.]
Oh, gawd... I feel so unclean......
I had to run some errands in Burtonsville, MD, late this morning, and there was this Burger King in the parking lot of the strip mall. Girding my loins, adjusting my shades, pulling up my pants, I went in. I tried to swagger a bit, like some of the workmen I saw going in... look tough... you're walking into a store painted in primary colors... could be worse... could be McSlaughter's....
Felt like I was a Dallas fan in a Redskins bar, only I had sunglasses on and no one knew any better. What do I do? A long line. Quite the mixture of ethic backgrounds, generally lower middle income. What sort of demented artist designed this place? They are so happy selling dead animal products. Better get in line.
The people behind the counter wear uniforms... are they a para military force of some kind? The assault on my sense was almost too much. They spoke some numerical code... "I'll take a Number 4, she wants a Number 5 without onions, I want a super-this and a mega-that"..... very confusing...
I checked out the menu overhead... gaudy and bright.. Yup, the "BK Veggie" $2.29... Lord... look at the other products on the menu... my internal calorie counter was going off the scale. Unbelievable fat-laden and salty food... look at all the dead meat. I hear Schossler chuckling with a little Twilight Zone music in my head.... look at all the crap they are selling, and buried in that visual abuse is the "BK Veggie" (next month the big promo for all BK's will be Chicken Whoppers, btw).
The lady and kid in front of me were fascinating. She was clearly his grandmother, and thin as a rail. The kid must've been around 8 or 9 years old, and rarely have I see any child so obese... he had, literally, three chins.. his ear lobes were the size of my thumbs... it was awful to see what happened next. She order fried chicken fingers, large order of fries, and a Diet Coke or Pepsi for the boy. Absolutely amazing.
I placed my order. "BK Veggie Burger, microwaved."
"Microwaved?" the guy behind the register said, slightly above the yelling of people in the kitchen making and delivering orders (they were very busy.... french fries literally flying around).
"Yup... I'd like it microwaved. You can do that... I checked. I don't want it cooked on a meat greasy grill." Was that a mummered rustling from people behind me I heard, or thought I saw peripherally?
He went over to the manager, who was barking orders at the adolescents in the back. He nodded after a pause, looking at me like I'm an alien.. Hmm, one of "them." "Okay" was the final pronouncement.
"Here or to go?" the kid asked me. Hell, I don't know, I thought.... how is this done?
"Ahh... h-here.." I stammered (did the people behind me think I was from a foreign country? I thought to myself). I paid the blood money.
"Number 61"... guess that's me. I raised my hand... "You got the veggie burger?" "Yup." "Here!" he dashed to bark out more orders.
The burger was wrapped in Burger King paper and on a plastic brown tray. Now what? Are people watching me? Get a seat, yeah....
Ketchup... sure... grab some packages... napkins... dodge the crowd at the soda fountain.... get seat for good recon (near the kid and his granny). Try to look nonchalant... cool... with it.... Master of the BK Domain....
Okay.... let's take a bite.... not bad... OUCH! (I don't own a microwave and forgot about the heat...). It was small, edible, relatively tasteless.... the bun was like eating styrofoam with a slight crust...
"Eat all your chicken fingers before they get cold" the wise Grandma was advising her grandson, as he was shoveling french fries into his gaping maw while grooving on his plastic toy that came with the meal.
I forced more of the burger down.... looking at people around me.... amazed at what they were eating, as though this is civilized and we are the greatest nation in the world.
I'm done... now what? Jeez... look at the people in the line... at least two-thirds of them are very overweight. Wonder if there's a connection?
Now what? Okay... save napkins and ketchup not used.... throw away stuff, advertisement paper place mat trashed, put tray on trashcan. Unclean... unclean....
I sneaked out the back door.... Ah.... fresh air... sunshine.... it's over. The cognitive assault had abated. I was free again... felt like gargling with carrot juice.
Okay, Eric... I bought one outta support for the movement. Would I do it again?
Only under extraordinary circumstances. Yes, it's encouraging to some, especially if they promoted it better (at this store it was almost invisible), and Mr. Marcus made good points. Yes, I would urge every veg'n to buy at least one BK Veggie Burger, even if you throw it away. I think he's right that it must succeed, or rather, it would be sad if it did not. Presumably, the other Fat, er, Fast Food chains are watching.
But then, as comparison, at the Giant across the parking lot from the BK, bagels are fifty cents, boca burgers are about a buck apiece when buying a pack of four, tomatoes (or what pass for them), run around 99 cents a pound. The salad bar is around $2.50 to $3 a pound. Across the street at the incredible Amish market, potato wedges (huge potato) are a buck, handmade burger rolls, six to a pack, about $2.20. Tons of fresh produce, grains, legumes (beans usually $1/lb., millet somewhat less). The local farmer's markets will open in a few months... fresh local produce.
Limp lettuce, translucent tomato slice, pale mayonnaise, and some carrot flecks in the veg patty. $2.29 plus tax, lotta paper wasted. Flourescent light and red/yellow color overdose.
As luck would have it, packages of vegetable and greens seeds were on sale for 10 cents apiece at the Dollar Store near the BK. Bought twenty packages (brocolli, mustard greens, lettuce, basil, dill, parsley, etc... most will be micro-greens for me... 30 to 40 gourmet salads for about 5 cents apiece (many many more if I grow them past adolescence), some soil, water, and sunshine).
That's my idea of progress. This brand of seed is usually six to ten times more in cost. You can buy organic seeds cheaper in bulk, elsewhere.
The kid was in the Dollar Store, too, his Grandmother buying him candy, among other things. She was trying so hard to please him and he had her by the pocketbook via her heart. And in her love for him, his heart was going to have a rough time from the lifestyle being encouraged by her emotions. How sad!
I shoulda slipped him some seeds..... told him they were magic, and that with love and attention, they would make him strong and healthy, extending his life and enjoyment of same. He would be able to run faster, jump higher, laugh louder, love longer, and think better.
Of course, that's a fairy tale... and no plastic toys accompanied the seed packets.