This week, vegans and carnivores alike are rejoicing as Burger King launches the Impossible Whopper, a plant-based version of its most famous sandwich. And Burger King isn't alone; fast-food chains are adding plant-based burgers and similar items to their menus left and right.
From the Beyond Burger at Carl's Jr. and the Impossible Burger at White Castle, to plant-based sausage at Little Caesar's and Dunkin' to ground plant-based beef at Del Taco, food businesses are giving the people what they want: delicious, indulgent plant-based goodness. In the United Kingdom, even KFC has launched a vegan chicken sandwich.
But the biggest fast-food Goliath is missing from this list: McDonald's.
McDonald's has flirted with vegan food offerings in other countries, but it's yet to commit to putting something on the menu in the U.S., even as its competitors are leading the way. In fact, the lag between McDonald's and restaurants like Burger King is so noticeable that a Change.org petition asking McDonald's to add plant-based protein to the menu now has more than 225,000 signatures.
However, even more people — 304,000 to be exact — are calling on McDonald's to improve its animal welfare practices. This is yet another issue of social responsibility in which McDonald's lags behind, and it's time they catch up.
As the co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, the farm animal sanctuary and advocacy organization, you'd think I would have little in common with leaders at companies like McDonald's, but the world is smaller than you think.
Rick Hernandez is the chairman of the board of McDonald's, and by sheer coincidence, we went to the same high school — Loyola High School, a Catholic Jesuit institution in Los Angeles. Ironically, during my late teens and early 20s, I even appeared in several of McDonald's TV commercials. But the most important thing we have in common is the reason I'm writing today: Rick and I are both in a position to significantly impact the lives of animals.
I've been an animal activist for more than 30 years, and through my work, I've met many chickens raised for companies like McDonald's. Every year, hundreds of millions of these animals are killed for nuggets and chicken sandwiches in the United States alone. These birds have been genetically altered to grow four times faster than normal, and they suffer from crippling leg disorders and other severe health problems as a result. The birds' hearts and lungs have difficulty supporting their abnormal growth rate and millions die before reaching the slaughterhouse every year.
But such numbers are hard to conceive of, so I'd like to tell you the story of an individual.
Thumbelina was one of the sweetest chickens we ever met. Had circumstances gone differently, however, no one would have ever gotten the chance to meet her. She started life on a factory farm — crammed alongside thousands of other birds being raised for meat who lacked the basic care and attention they deserved. During transport to slaughter, the crate she was in came loose from the truck and fell onto the highway — killing many of her friends upon impact.
Miraculously, Thumbelina survived and got the lifesaving care that she needed at Farm Sanctuary. She spent more than five years with us and was beloved by our caregiving staff, whose favorite memories involve her climbing into our laps to snuggle. She was an amazing chicken and we feel grateful to have known her; she was a friend, not food.
Many of McDonald's biggest competitors, including Burger King and Subway, have pledged to ban some of the cruelest practices inflicted on chickens like Thumbelina, such as breeding them to grow so fast and large that many can't even walk without pain. But McDonald's has refused to do the same. Profit appears to be more important than the most basic decency.
As the world's largest restaurant company, McDonald's has the power and ethical responsibility to end the extreme suffering of animals and they can easily do this by upgrading their animal welfare standards, and introducing vegan options to give their customers a healthier, more sustainable, and more compassionate menu option.
Rick, from one Loyola High School graduate to another: Please use your influence to push McDonald's to catch up to your competitors, to stop ignoring your customers, to eliminate the worst animal cruelty. In the long run, it's simply good business sense. At Loyola High School, the motto is "Men for and with Others." You can help fulfill this call to service by reducing the suffering of others, all others — including animals.