Dear GBK, resistance to meat is anything but futile

Posted by
Harriet Hall
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Restaurant chain Gourmet Burger Kitchen has apologised after their latest advertising campaign sparked an angry backlash from vegetarians and vegans.

In the midst of Veganuary, in what was either a dummy error or a brilliant marketing ploy to fuel publicity (and a trap into which I am deliciously about to fall) at a time when thousands of people are cutting out meat, fish and dairy - possibly accounting for a loss of precious January revenue for the chain, GBK launched a poster campaign which unapologetically celebrates meat eating, while condemning vegetarianism.

The poster campaign includes a photograph of a burger with the caption: “Vegetarians, resistance is futile.”

Another says: “You always remember the time you gave up being a vegetarian,” and one shows a picture of a cow, accompanied by the statement: “They eat grass so you don’t have to.”

Initially, after the hashtag #gourmetmurderkitchen began trending amongst the vegan and vegetarian communities (no-doubt, along with the chant: 'hey hey GBK how many cows did you kill today?!'), the company responded by saying:

“We’re just channelling our inner-carnivore a little this January in a you-can’t-be-serious-no-we’re-really-not-serious way.”

But after people began to discuss boycotting the burger joint, GBK got serious, changed its tune and issued a new statement in which it apologised and said it would be taking down “some” of the posters:

“The last thing we ever intended to do was offend or alienate vegetarians. The same vegetarians that we've looked after and fed since our very first restaurant. Our intentions were light-hearted and not meant to cause any offence, but clearly we have, and for that we apologise.”

“While we've served beef at the core of our menu since 2001, we've always catered well to the veggies out there, and that's never going to change,” it continues.

“Having read all your comments and messages, we've made the decision to take down some of the adverts.”

Anyone who watches TV, reads magazines and generally lives in the 21st Century, knows that advertising works best when it’s iced with a little controversy, but GBK seem to have missed the point entirely, both in their adverts and in their forced apology.

Sure, they offer two veggie burgers on their menus - gold stars all-round - but the real problem here isn’t that GBK unashamedly admits to killing animals. Didn’t we know that already? Didn’t those posting tweets and ‘Gourmet Murder Kitchen’ memes notice, before the campaign, that GBK is a burger joint making money from selling… burgers?

I’ve always resisted being a proselytising vegetarian – many of my friends and family love nothing more than a steak so blue it’s practically still breathing - and I’ve got no problem with them eating it right in front of me - who am I to tell people what they can’t eat simply because it doesn’t chime with my ethical values?

The real problem with GBK’s adverts is not that they’re insensitive, it’s that they’re just plain ignorant.

Sure, we all get the lad culture vibe GBK are reaching for: the ‘I’ve eaten so many cows I’m literally made of hemoglobin’ group, and the ‘it’s just not a meal without meat’ gang - which is as tiresome as the rest of lad culture - but this goes beyond the ‘fuck the veggies’ mentality.

You don’t have to watch Cowspiracy to know that the global demand for meat is devastating the planet (although it certainly helps). The statistics – likely to quell your appetite for those juicy burgers -  speak for themselves:

Animal agriculture currently accounts for a staggering 51% of all greenhouse gasses produced by the world. That’s more than all cars, combined.

Raising livestock and the feed needed to rear them accounts for 91% of all deforestation (which, in turn, results in species extinction, and further increase in CO2)

The emissions for agriculture is projected to increase by an excruciating 80% by 2050 – which is madness, considering that we are expected to exceed our CO2e limit by 2030 from raising animals alone.

One steak takes 7,500 litres of water to produce – the equivalent of 2 months’ worth of showers.

Cows produce 130 times more waste than the entire human population put together and they consume more food than the calorific needs of the entire human population.

Even if we bypass the environmental concerns alone, there’s the unavoidable fact that if we all turned vegetarian, there would be enough food to feed the world’s starving.

In September last year, Labour’s Kerry McCarthy MP – a vegan - caused outrage when she suggested meat eaters be treated akin to smokers, with “public campaigns to stop people eating it.”

McCarthy was met by a wall of fury on social media, but she isn’t far off in some respects. While we’re increasing taxes on sugar, alcohol and cigarettes – products that predominantly harm the user – we should be encouraging people to significantly reduce their meat and fish intake too, for the benefit of the future of our planet.

Going vegetarian is much more than merely ‘resisting’ meat, it is making a conscious decision to forgo it, for the benefit of the environment.

At the very least, the Advertising Standards Agency should consider the detrimental impact these advertisements have upon that crucial mentality.

Saying that vegetarianism is ‘futile’ is like saying recycling is futile, that taking the train instead of driving is futile, that the UN Climate Change Conference was futile.

Reducing our meat-intake or cutting it out entirely is anything but futile - it’s essential. 

Statistics: Cowspiracy, Peta, Worldwatch Institute