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I've never really "gotten" In-N-Out, the fast-food burger chain spread across the American West. A near-lifelong East Coaster, I spent four years in California for college. I went to In-N-Out twice. I find that I fall in Thrillist's Andy Kryza's camp: "In-N-Out burgers are fine, really." I haven't thought about this fast food chain once since returning East until this past week, when the cultural furor surrounding the mere suggestion that In-N-Out adopt a veggie burger reached a fever pitch.
Two weeks ago, Emily Byrd of the Good Food Institute, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that encourages the use of sustainable food supplies, petitioned In-N-Out President Lynsi Snyder to "Put a veggie burger on the menu at In-N-Out!" A gentle demand. Byrd writes that herbivores may want a "healthy, humane, and sustainable option" when they go to this beloved restaurant, bemoaning that they must resort to "multiple orders of French fries or a cheese-slathered bun" to satisfy their palates. Byrd's petition is a well-sourced epistolary plea of 215 words, citing Chipotle's vegan sofritas, White Castle's veggie sliders, and Burger King's BK Veggie as veritable vegetarian options on meat-heavy fast food menus. She closes with a rhetorical appeal to In-N-Out's corporate values: "As a company that prides itself on both customer satisfaction and ethical business practices," she argues, "adding a meat-free option is a no-brainer." She has, as of Tuesday afternoon, nearly 37,000 signatories.
These are noble aims, yet a vocal contingent of the internet who swears by In-N-Out has perceived Byrd's suggestion as criminal. What followed was a drone of displeasure, the tenor of many responses resembling this:
Responses of this nature have continued unabated since Byrd posted her petition. Yesterday, Byrd penned a righteous op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that began with a distressing anecdote about the nature of the harassment she's received for her petition: "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."
Byrd then shares a laundry list of what she's been called on Facebook: "un-American, a fascist, a moron, delusional, an imbecile, fanatical, disgusting, disgraceful, a control freak sociopath, and the worst part of the human race." Predictably, someone evokes the expected alarmist buzzwords from 2016's NIMBY playbook, worrying that Byrd simply wants “a gender-free, multicultural safespace to cuddle in."
Man, what a ruckus! A burger joint has sparked such fierce tribalism and somehow managed to reveal the uglier strains of normative American behavior wherein harassing a woman is fair game. Surely there must be a substantive argument to be leveled against Byrd's petition. (Though I've scavenged for one and come up dry.) Even Byrd seems to know there really isn't. In her op-ed, she really reaches when she says that those who think that her ask is parallel to wondering why a steakhouse doesn't offer non-steak options have a point. Do they? Does she really believe this? Her petition refutes this very point when Byrd talks about Chipotle, White Castle, and Burger King's vegetarian options.
Besides—when it comes to fast food, veggies are in, baby, according to this trend piece. It cites recent moves by Panera and Taco Bell to pack touchstones of their menus with more vegetables, while Chick-fil-A and McDonald's are experimenting with kale and broccolini in place of iceberg lettuce. And the phrase "veggie burger that bleeds" has been on constant loop in my head since news of David Chang's monstrosity broke over a month ago. There's clearly a newfound belief that a veggie burger can be more than a merely wanting substitute for its namesake—and it doesn't have to occupy some imagined social purgatory of unwanted food that will never permeate the mainstream American taste.
The jokesters over at Los Angeles Magazine suggest that In-N-Out will never placate Byrd and her 37,000 and counting supporters, and that she'll instead have to resort to some barnstorm of an artery clogger stuffed with fries and topped with melted cheese to meet her dietary needs. In-N-Out's menu has been historically resistant to change, making the introduction of a veggie burger unlikely. That's disappointing. I'm not vegetarian, but I'd like to taste an In-N-Out veggie burger if they ever make one, despite my ambivalence regarding the restaurant. Maybe I'd finally get it.
What do you think? Is asking In-N-Out for a veggie burger a tall order?