What's eating you?

Posted: Jul 21, 2003 12:00 AM

 It’s not the end of the world, but it might be a sign of some sort: McDonald’s is serving healthier food.

 The fast-food chain, known for its burgers and fries, is now pushing salads, complete with “Newman’s Own” dressing packets. They’re pretty tasty, in fact. But even a move away from meat isn’t enough to satisfy some animal-rights activists, because the salads contain chicken. And that’s a no-no.

I was reminded of that on a recent commute. McDonald’s has been running ads for their new fare on subway trains. One ad read “Cool Salad, Warm Chicken.” Someone, presumably an anti-meat protester, had crossed off “Warm” and written in “Dead.”

Well, one would hope so. Imagine eating live chicken. For one thing, it would be pretty difficult to keep on a fork. Plus, who wants to eat food that, when you bite it, might just bite back? Someone, somewhere has surely eaten live chicken. If he survived, he probably insisted it “tasted like chicken.” But it’s not a good idea.

Of course, the fine folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would prefer that no one ever eat chicken, or any other meat or poultry, ever. As a first step in that direction, PETA is suing another fast-food chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken.

On its Web site, KFC says it “prohibits its suppliers from using growth-promoting substances, and requires its suppliers to raise birds in clean chicken houses with appropriate space and proper ventilation.”

In addition, “birds held in storage sheds must be provided adequate ventilation and climate control,” and “stunning equipment must be maintained to ensure all birds are unconscious prior to slaughter, and the time between stunning and slaughter must be limited to ensure that no bird regains consciousness prior to slaughter.”

Now, that actually sounds pretty good, when you consider what’s going to end up happening to these chickens. To paraphrase John Maynard Keynes, in the long run, they’re all dead (unless KFC decides to experiment with serving live chicken).

For its part, PETA claims KFC’s chickens are ill served. It says the fast-food giant is lying, and that its birds are mistreated through various drugging, feeding and slaughter practices.

Ironically, the group’s director of vegan outreach admits KFC’s treatment of the chickens is legal. He says PETA is suing to stop KFC from lying about the treatment.

But this sure seems like nothing more than a nuisance lawsuit. If PETA can make life tough enough for KFC, maybe the company will eventually decide to get out of the chicken business and do something else instead.

After all, there’s no secret about PETA’s overall agenda. It wants everyone to stop eating meat and poultry. As it says on the PETA Web site: “Some people ignore dietary advice to cut back on or cut out animal products, perhaps hoping that a ‘magic pill’ will come along that will make their illnesses go away. Common sense tells us that prevention is the best medicine.”

Not to encourage any of the lawyers out there, but I think KFC might have a counter suit here. After all, “Some ignore dietary advice to cut out animal products.” Who’s doing the ignoring? And who made the advice in the first place? My doctor recently recommended that I try the Atkins diet -- and following that would require me to eat more meat, not less.

People have been eating animals since the beginning of time. It might not be politically correct to point that out, but it’s a fact. And today’s animals are probably treated better than food animals have ever been. That’s not to say I’d want to be slaughtered for food. But since we’re going to continue to be a meat-eating species, I’d say we’re handling ourselves pretty well.

Let’s end the silly, pointless lawsuits. After all, isn’t it almost dinnertime?