Vegetarians in Paradise began its SAY NO to IN-N-OUT BURGER campaign in February 2003 to encourage an end to this misguided reading incentive, but Phase 1 of that campaign has been greeted with a giant wave of indifference.
In mid-February 2002 we sent letters to 126 libraries in California, targeting communities where the fast food chain has outlets. See SAY NO to IN-OUT BURGER at http://www.vegparadise.com/news28.html The lack of response to our letters was close to unanimous. Of the few respondents, none agreed with our statement that hamburgers should not be used as incentives to encourage children to read. Obviously, librarians in California have not rushed to embrace the Vegetarians in Paradise campaign to Say No to IN-N-OUT BURGER.
We also sent a letter to Esther Snyder, the president of the company. We have not received an answer from her or anyone else in the company.
In those letters we stressed that IN-N-OUT''s burger reward for reading was a marketing ploy targeting children. Our emphasis was on the negative health aspects.
As of this date we have received only nine responses, but those may be an indication of the attitude of librarians. In our previous story we printed the letter to Susan Kent, City Librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library. That letter was the same one we sent to the other libraries. This was her response:
February 26, 2003
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Allen:
Thank you for your letter regarding the Children's Reading Club and In-N-Out Burger.
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.
We don't plan to write another letter to Ms. Kent for fear we will receive another clueless response. According to her, the library can offer any " give-away" to children without taking responsibility for that offering. We think the library needs to show better judgment in deciding what items are appropriate. Frankly, we were shocked by the inappropriateness of her response. By sponsoring the "Food for Thought" program and giving coupons to the children, Ms. Kent and the librarians in 69 libraries in Los Angeles are definitely making an endorsement of IN-N-OUT BURGERS. Parents, beware of the next library "give-away," especially one sponsored by the Los Angeles Public Library.
One of our readers responded to our story by writing the following letter:
March 5, 2003
Ms. Susan Kent, City Librarian
Dear Ms. Kent:
I frequently use the Central and branch libraries for enjoyment and research. I am from a library-oriented family and grew up in the children's section of my local public library.
Because I know how important libraries are in showing children a whole new world, and how powerful they are in modeling what a society believes is important for children to know, I am shocked that the Public Library is allowing a reading-promotion program to offer free hamburgers to participants.
I think that offering food of any kind as a reward for reading is inappropriate. Reading is a cerebral activity and should be rewarded with certificates of achievement, gold stars, or - if something material is felt to be necessary - subscriptions to children's magazines or free tickets to children's plays.
Children already have enough encouragement to eat, overeat, and eat unhealthy foods (I would hope that the Public Library realizes that hamburgers are unhealthy). By their very nature, libraries are a refuge from nonstop marketing.
Please end the alliance with In-N-Out Burger and give children more appropriate rewards, which they can put in their scrapbooks and proudly display to their friends. I believe such rewards will be more effective as well.
Name withheld by request
VIP has received messages from librarians in the Los Angeles Public Library system who are distressed by some of the advertising "give-aways" directed at young children in the community. We cannot divulge names because they fear reprisal. One librarian told us, "I have been distressed by the unethical nature of this program: for the company to encourage young people to eat more saturated fat and for libraries to encourage this through their participation." Other librarians who fear retaliation tell us they are appalled at the library participation in this program. They try to avoid giving out the coupons for hamburgers or neglect to post the information in a visible location.
The San Francisco Public Library does not offer IN-N-OUT BURGER coupons to children, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't if the company approached them. This is their response:
February 19, 2003
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Allen:
City Librarian, Susan Hildreth, has requested that I respond to your letter of concern regarding library alliances with IN-N-OUT BURGER.
The San Francisco Public Library does not offer products from this franchise as reading incentives. As far as I am aware, we have never done so.
The Library offers many different types of prizes and incentives for reading, especially during our annual Summer Reading Program. These include choices such as free books, tickets to programs or events, passes to museums, and more. We would not necessarily exclude fast food incentives as one of the options if they were made available and if we felt parents and children in our community would be interested in having them as an additional choice. We feel the right to make a choice is most appropriately left between parent and child. While we have no plans to actively seek IN-N-OUT BURGER incentives, we want you to understand that we cannot make a commitment not to offer them at some point in the future.
Obviously, library managers in two of the largest cities in California are not aware that libraries are responsible for their "give aways." Somehow they feel that the end justifies the means, any means. The Oxnard Public Library does not currently participate in the program but would probably embrace it when it is offered. The folks at IN-N-OUT out in Baldwin Park will be happy to read the library director's letter.
March 7, 2003
Dear Zel and Reuben:
Thank you for your letter concerning the In-N-Out Burger Reading Incentive Program.
Currently, the Oxnard Public Library does not participate in the program mentioned in your letter, and at the present time this program is not available in Ventura County.
In-N-Out Burger is a relatively new business in the City of Oxnard. After reading your letter, we checked with other public libraries in Southern California and found successful programs promoting and rewarding children for reading. We've heard nothing but success stories, and libraries have been extremely happy to see children's love of reading being encouraged and supported by family and community. We have also discovered that in some communities the IN-N-OUT BURGER meal is one of the few relatively good meals some families receive. Incidentally, you may find it interesting that In-N-Out will make a vegetarian burger if a customer requests it according to news reports.
Our mission is to promote lifelong reading, and our library program will continue to provide incentives for reading.
If I may be of further assistance, please let me know.
Barbara J. Murray
We at VIP wonder if distributing a large number of burgers constitutes a successful reading program. What about the children who list the titles of books they have not read in order to receive their burger coupons? We also wonder what Ms. Murray considers a "good meal." Obviously, she can't mean that an IN-N-OUT meal promotes the health and well-being of families eating it. Besides, if IN-N-OUT is offering a vegetarian option, why didn't they indicate that choice on the coupon?
The Tulare County Library has its own solution to the IN-N-OUT BURGER reading incentive program. Give the children burger coupons to encourage them to become literate so they can learn about healthy eating. This is their response:
March 8, 2003
Thank you for expressing your concern regarding IN-N-OUT Burger and their library program encouraging developing reading skills in young people. The functional illiteracy rate in Tulare County, amongst adults, is over 40%. Taken in perspective, the illiteracy problem is much more serious than the current eating habits of our local youth. Not eating burgers or fries will not help our youth become literate. Becoming literate may help our youth learn about healthy eating.
IN-N-OUT BURGER will make a grilled cheese sandwich for vegetarians and a vegan version also (at least in our community). In addition we offer alternative awards for those children whose parents do not feel comfortable with the IN-N-OUT coupon.
After reading these responses, VIP feels the urgency to continue our campaign to discourage food rewards, especially hamburgers, as incentives to encourage young people to read. Our campaign will be successful only if it has the support of people in those communities where libraries are offering these incentives.
What You Can Do
If you would like to assist in our Say No to IN-N-OUT BURGER campaign, here are a few suggestions:
Mrs. Esther Snyder, President
Meanwhile, stay tuned for Phase 2. The campaign is not over until the fat lady sings. Fortunately, there are relatively few fat vegetarian ladies who sing.