In-N-Out Still Peddles Obesity to Kids;
"Did you know you were mentioned in a book about In-N-Out Burger?'" was a question posed to us by a local librarian. We followed up on the question by checking the catalog of our local library to find a copy of IN-N-OUT BURGER: A BEHIND THE COUNTER LOOK AT THE FAST-FOOD CHAIN THAT BREAKS ALL THE RULES by Stacy Perman.
As far as we were concerned, the company broke many rules--health rules that concern many health-minded professionals.
Here we were in 2013 scurrying to find a copy of a book published in 2009. Finding a copy at a local branch library, we checked the index to find "Allen, Zell and Reuben, letter-writing campaign and, 245." If only the indexer had checked carefully, he//she would have spelled Zel with one L.
Turning to page 245 in Chapter 22, we found one of the problems that the burger chain faced, Vegetarians in Paradise. Perman wrote:
"In-N-Out was not, however, totally insulated from the problems plaguing the industry. In May 2003, the company quietly settled a lawsuit filed by a family of a Palo Alto girl who claimed she contacted E. coli after eating at In-N-Out's Kettleman City store off the I-5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The incident seemed to be an aberration on an otherwise spotless record.
"The Kettleman City episode occurred the same year that the editors of a Los Angeles-based monthly online magazine, Vegetarians in Paradise, staged a protest against In-N-Out's "Food for Thought," program. Esther [Snyder] remained a booster of reading, and the literacy program, in conjunction with public libraries, gave students hamburger coupons and Achievement Award certificates in exchange for having read five books. In February, editors Zel and Reuben Allen launched a letter-writing campaign--"Say No to In-N-Out Burger--targeting 126 libraries in those states where In-N-Out operated.
"The Allens' remonstration was not the rousing success that the vegetarian activists had hoped it would be. In their April 2, 2003, newsletter, the pair reported that their earnest protest was "greeted with a giant wave of indifference." Among the few responses Vegetarians in Paradise did receive was one from Brian Lewis, the county librarian from Tulare County in California, who described the literacy rate among Tulare adults as more of a problem than the eating habits of its youth. "Becoming literate may help our youth learn about healthy eating," he wrote. Lewis and the head librarian for the city of Oxnard pointed out the secret menu to the Allens, explaining that In-N-Out would make a vegetarian or even a vegan version of their hamburgers upon request."
Obviously, Perman did not have the space or inclination to provide more details about our campaign. The complete story can be found at
Check Out a Burger at Your Local Library.
She and many others missed the point: this was not a vegetarian issue but a moral point of not using fast food or any food as a reading incentive. It also was an obesity issue. We pointed out the amount of fat, sodium, and cholesterol that would be fed to the young coupon bearer.
But why tell this story now? Isn't this ancient history? Not so. In-N-Out is still giving out coupons for hamburger meals as reading incentives. In redeeming the coupon a child must come in with the family. Instead of "Food for Thought," the campaign is now called "Cover to Cover Reading Club for ages 4 to 12."
The "Cover to Cover Club" achievement award is good for a free hamburger or cheeseburger at any In-N-Out Burger. Children who are too young to read may participate by having books read to them by their parents or guardians. Children may receive up to three award certificates during this six-week reading program.
From the fast-food giant's point of view, the reading incentive is a great way to lure more business to In-N-Out Burger.
We are aware, as are many health professionals, that fast food is contributing to the nation's obesity crisis. Reading incentives should not feature food.
Fortunately, the Los Angeles City Library (LAPL) with its 72 branches is no longer participating in the In-N-Out travesty. Perhaps, they became tired of our letters to the City Librarian and mayor protesting food incentives for reading. Details of those campaigns can be found in these past stories:
VIP Rides Merry-Go-Round with Mayor's Henchmen
Hold the Pizza--The Lights are Still Out at LAPL
The stories we published in 2008 caught the attention of a local radio station and the Los Angeles Daily News that featured it on the front page. The Los Angeles Daily News article was headlined "Pair objects to ice cream, pizza as reading rewards" and was coupled with another story comparing obesity in California with obesity in other states.
Reporter Susan Abram quoted us: "Everywhere you look you see children having weight problems. Everybody is bemoaning the obesity thing, but nobody is taking any steps. A public agency should not be promoting this type of thing."
In response to the Los Angeles Daily News article, we received one email from a librarian from LAPL who we will not name because of her fear of retaliation: "Good for you! I always felt like a pimp handing out those coupons. I hope there's enough public response to the article that even arrogant LAPL has to pay attention."
Most troubling were the library's responses to us: "The library continues to provide these coupons/incentives without endorsement." "The coupon you mention is one of several "give-aways" in this program. The library provides these without an endorsement. As with all resources found at the library, it is the responsibility of the parent or guardian to determine the appropriateness of these and other give-aways for their children."
To placate us, one library official suggested that we offer a program on healthy eating at one of the branch libraries. We declined because although people need to know about healthy eating, this type of program would only reach a handful likely to attend. Besides, it would be hypocritical of us to present a program on healthy eating in a library that's distributing coupons for pizza, hamburgers, or ice cream.
In this year's summer reading program the Los Angeles Public Library did not reward young readers with any food. The giveaways are stickers, bookmarks, book bags, and books. We commend LAPL for choosing better ways to encourage kids to read.
Unfortunately, In-N-Out still persuades some libraries to act as pimps encouraging young people to participate in the Cover to Cover Club and bring their families to the restaurant to pick up their food reward. The Cover to Cover program is a stealth operation. There is no mention of it on the In-N-Out web page. All the promotion and advertising is conveniently provided by the libraries who act as shills to promote this company's unhealthful food.
Joining what we call the Library Hall of Shame in October 2013 are three libraries advertising their Cover to Cover Reading Club. In this Library Hall of Shame are Mission Viejo Library, City of Commerce Library (4 branches), and Altadena Library (2 branches).
California libraries that joined the Library Hall of Shame in Spring 2013 by participation in the Cover to Cover gimmick were located in the following communities:
San Bernardino County
In this era where so many kids and families struggle with obesity, it is unconscionable for a library to offer any kind of food as a reading incentive and act as an advertising agent for a food company. It is also unconscionable for In-N-Out to lure young people into the restaurants under the guise of improving reading skills. The bottom line for libraries is to "Say No to In-N-Out" or any food company and take a positive stance in the war on childhood obesity.