THE movie "The Princess Bride" is a favorite in my household, particularly an exchange that occurs early in the film.
Following the capture of Princess Buttercup, Vizzini is becoming increasingly anxious about the possibility of a pursuer. This is no time for humor. His anxiety begins to spill over, and he quickly grows weary of the lighthearted back-and-forth between Inigo Montoya and his hired giant, Fezzik. He wants them to be more serious about their duties and angrily declares, "No more rhymes now, I mean it!" To which Fezzik, who can't help himself, indifferently replies, "Anybody want a peanut?"
No doubt, devoted fans of the film smile every time they think of it. That snippet also serves as an apt representation for the fallout from Red Robin's (Gourmet Burgers) recent TV ad. In case you missed it, the ad promoting the chain's burger menu generated lots of hullabaloo over the line: "We even have a Gardenburger — just in case your teenage daughter is going through a phase."
That didn't sit well with vegetarians and vegans. Given the comments that appeared in the news and social media, they largely perceived the promotion as insensitive, offensive and degrading. To them, it was out of bounds: The decision not to eat animals extends beyond young girls "going through a phase."
The backlash was sufficient to generate a formal apology from the company.
From a public relations perspective, Red Robin was probably smart to respond accordingly. However, the sharp reaction draws attention to the importance of the image associated with being a vegan or vegetarian; for many, it's a matter of identity — not just a dietary or lifestyle choice.
That fact greatly changes the game when it comes to "outsiders" talking about vegetarianism in a less-than-serious manner. This is no joking matter.
Coincidentally, at about the same time, "Floreakeats" (Michael Floreak) published a blog titled "The Food A#@hole's Dilemma." Floreak explained that he's thinking about writing a book in accordance with Michael Pollan's propensity for "rules, lists and whatnot." As such, he defines 15 rules that every "foodie" must learn.
Given the advertisement and subsequent response, rules 5, 6 and 7 seem especially fitting here:
* If you don't eat meat, let everyone know about it — all the time.
* Be vocal — very, very vocal.
* Be critical — very, very critical — but only of others.
Those three principles accurately define how the vegan/vegetarian community collectively responded to Red Robin.
While the non-meat eaters may cry foul, they're conveniently overlooking what really goes on within their own ranks. Most interesting is the reality that not eating meat really IS a phase for many young people.
Several years ago, a Vegetarian Times survey noted that 42% of all vegetarians are between the ages of 18 and 34. Moreover, only about half of self-declared vegetarians are able to maintain their personal commitment for 10 years or more; beyond that, they simply run out of gas to follow through with it.
In a previous Feedstuffs column, my summation of those findings was that vegetarians come and go.
With those facts in mind, all of this seems like a lot of misplaced indignation, especially when put in broader context: Red Robin didn't specifically criticize or disparage any certain group or individual. In fact, the company explained that the advertisement "was intended to increase awareness of these vegetarian options in an irreverent, lighthearted way."
Food or not, life's too short to NOT find humor in our world — no matter who you are. So, let's all lighten up a little.
Enough already with the grief. Anyone want some beef?
*Dr. Nevil C. Speer is with Western Kentucky University and serves on the board of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a national organization devoted to engaging livestock producers and livestock health professionals in developing solutions for issues in the livestock industry.