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Vegetarian McDonald's: Way to go or effort to 'humiliate Hindus'?

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Normally meat-centric McDonald’s confirmed that it plans to open two all-vegetarian locations in India — and now customers, herbivore activists and others are buzzing.

One no-meat branch will be based in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar in northern India and another in Katra near the Vaishno Devi cave shrine in Indian Kashmir, said spokeswoman Becca Hary in a statement.  

The chain expanded into India through New Delhi and Mumbai in 1996. Many Indians avoid meat – especially beef and pork – for religious reasons.

At the fewer than 300 McDonald’s locations around India, the potato-based McAloo Tikki burger is the runaway bestseller. The Maharaja Mac, which is made from chicken, and the McSpicy Paneer are also popular.

“McDonald’s respects local cultures and has adapted our menu and dining experiences to local preferences,” Hary said. “In India, our McDonald’s kitchens have always been divided into separate sections for cooking vegetarian and non-vegetarian food, and the restaurants there do not sell beef or pork.”

As to whether the chain will open vegetarian restaurants in the U.S. or elsewhere, Hary said she “wouldn’t be able to speculate.”

“McDonald’s listens to what our customers ask for and we certainly will continue to cater to local tastes and preferences,” she said.

Rajan Zed, a colorful, self-proclaimed “Hindu statesman” and cleric, declared the vegetarian restaurants to be “a step in the right direction” and called on other major chains to launch meat-free outlets.

Nevada-based Zed once served as a guest chaplain in the U.S. Senate, delivering a Hindu prayer as Christian protesters disrupted the service.

But Hindu nationalist group Swadeshi Jagran Manch plans a backlash against McDonald’s vegetarian push, describing it to the Daily Telegraph as “an attempt not only to make money but also to deliberately humiliate Hindus.”

“It is an organization associated with cow slaughter,” said national co-convener S. Gurumurthy. “If we make an announcement that they're slaughtering cows, people won't eat there. We are definitely going to fight it."

On Twitter, reaction was mixed. Some users chalked up the vegetarian plan as McDonald’s effort to be sustainable and eco-friendly. Others said it was a ploy to draw tourists and religious pilgrims.

Several, including Steven Kolb, the chief executive of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, were just stunned.

“Really??????” Kolb tweeted.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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