In-N-Out Burger has been about nothing but burgers since 1945. Now they’re being
badgered bullied petitioned to add a vegetarian burger to the menu. It’s 2016. Sounds like a 21st Century food no-brainer, right? Actually not.
Like other restaurants, fast food or not, In-N-Out Burger is a business. The successful business model is about beef burgers, with or without cheese, on a bun (or not*), french fries, with condiments and drinks. Period. No salads or yogurt parfaits or chicken nuggets or fried fish. Very simple. There are hundreds of stores throughout the Western US. So if you go to In-N-Out Burger, you go there to get a burger. You don’t go there and demand a grilled chicken salad.
At the moment, the only meatless option at In-N-Out burger is basically a grilled cheese (cheeseburger minus the burger). But that’s not good enough for some people, who feel entitled to go there and demand a vegetarian burger. According to the petition:
“If you want a meat-free meal at In-N-Out, you’re going to be stuck eating multiple orders of French fries or a cheese-slathered bun”
To which a sensible person would reply: So don’t go there.
Having written a book for vegetarian/vegan teens, what could I find wrong with this demand? First of all that it’s a bullying demand. We’re talking about a business, not some government entity. Businesses exist to sell products to their customer base. If you’re a vegetarian, you aren’t one of In-N-Out Burger’s targeted customers. They’re under no obligation to serve you a veggie burger or yogurt parfait or salad. And you, as a consumer, are free to patronize businesses that meet your needs and sell products you want.
Second, having included recipes for bean burgers in my book, I know how tricky it is to make those work. It’s one thing to take the time at home to prepare and cook a meatless burger. It’s quite another to deal with them in a fast food production line, where orders have to go out quickly and be absolutely consistent from one burger to the next. The people who work in restaurants like that aren’t highly trained chefs, and even if they were they simply don’t have the time to spend fussing with each veggie burger.
One solution would be for burger restaurants to just buy frozen soy burgers from some other supplier. It would be easy to do, but your meatless burger wouldn’t be anything special or unique to your restaurant. I don’t particularly like any of them, especially because getting a soy bean or other plant material to end up looking and tasting vaguely like beef takes a whole lot of processing. Plus I’m not sure this would even be considered, since In-N-Out Burger’s food quality policy is all about fresh food. Buying frozen soy burgers from some distant supplier probably doesn’t fit that image.
In-N-Out Burger could start developing a signature veggie burger recipe, one that uses some combination of beans and cooked grains, hopefully with as few weird additives as possible, that holds up to the rigors of a fast food kitchen production line, that also tastes good. Smashburger has a black bean burger* that is quite nice. Somehow that company figured out how to make it work.
So it’s not impossible. And I sympathize with some of the pro-veggie-burger people who note that if a group with one vegetarian goes to In-N-Out Burger, the vegetarian doesn’t have any options except that grilled cheese bun. Which doesn’t sound at all appealing.
So not taking sides here. A veggie burger could be done, although it would take quite a bit of recipe development and product testing. But if In-N-Out Burger chooses not to go that route, that’s their business decision.
*”Protein Style” burgers ditch the bun and are served on lettuce, apparently appealing to the low carb/Paleo crowd.
**Most of these will be made with eggs, to hold the ingredients together, so are not vegan.