Last week, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sent a letter to Judy Camarena, the president of Arandas Franchises, asking that the popular Tex-Mex chain Taqueria Arandas create a vegan version of its new french fry-stuffed El Mateo burrito, which was given away for free on Sunday at the restaurant's Heights location to anyone named Matt (or Matthew or Mateo, etc.).
Actually, it wasn't so much PETA as it was a single PETA employee, Matt Bruce. As a Matt and as a vegan, he was unhappy that his dietary restrictions prevented him from getting a free burrito that he would be able to eat. It should be noted, however, that Mr. Bruce lives in Los Angeles, so he probably wouldn't have been able to get a free burrito from Taqueria Arandas anyway.
Still, Bruce, a campaigner who travels the country organizing animal rights demonstrations, wrote to Camarena, saying, "Eating the El Mateo will make Matt fat, and all the cholesterol and saturated animal fat in the beef, cheese, and sour cream can also raise his risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even erectile dysfunction!"
Bruce went on to write:
"In a comment in QSR Magazine, you stated that 'El Mateo is about having fun with your food and not taking things too seriously,' but for animals on factory farms, there is nothing fun about being turned into food, and the impact is very serious. Factory farms are a major contributor to climate change, responsible for 14.5 percent of all human-induced greenhouse-gas emissions. Beef and dairy products, the primary components of an El Mateo burrito, account for the vast majority of that pollution."
While I, personally, can neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of Bruce's claims, they seem pretty legit to me. That said, we wondered why this plea was made to Taqueria Arandas and not, oh, I don't know, one of the 5,000 other Tex-Mex restaurants -- not to mention steakhouses and barbecue joints -- here in Houston.
So we gave Bruce a ring.
"Of course, we would want all burritos to be vegan," Bruce explains, "but this one shares my namesake, and for all Matts who are vegan and care about animals who suffer on factory farms, we want a free burrito that all of us can enjoy."
Bruce says that while it may seem like a somewhat frivolous request, "It's a fun way to bring attention to a serious fact that animals suffer horrendous mutilations on factory farms whether they're used for dairy or meat."
Are you feeling guilty about eating beef burritos yet? Cause I am.
Bruce went on to explain that it's now easier than ever to adopt a vegan diet because most stores carry mock meat and soy cheese. He also notes that Mexican food lends itself particularly well to a vegan makeover because rice, beans, corn and other veggies are already vegan. No need to give up those corn chips and salsa!
Other PETA employees got in on the Taqueria takedown, sending out press releases to the likes of us with some uniquely quotable lines:
"A burrito that's stuffed with the flesh of abused animals -- and that has an excellent chance of pushing diners along on the road to the emergency room -- should have smart customers saying, 'No, gracias!'"
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When we called Taqueria Arandas to see what the president had to say, we were informed Judy Camarena was out of the office for a while, but we were able to get a comment from Stephanie Olmo, who also works at the corporate headquarters.
"It's kind of a pity that they would write that," Olmo says, "and it's kind of funny, because we are working on a vegetarian option. We don't know if it's going to be vegan or vegetarian. We just really want it to be a good one. We're trying to study it and make it something that anyone would want."
Yes, that's right, PETA, Taqueria Arandas was already working on a vegetarian option. Bruce noted that vegetarian isn't quite good enough, though, because the animals on dairy or poultry farms are still mistreated.
Whether the El Mateo promotes animal cruelty or not, the Heights Taqueria Arandas gave away nearly three dozen french fry and beef burritos to Houston Matts on Sunday. And Matt Bruce was not one of them.