An armada of 50 social justice activists, animal welfare groups and environmental lobbyists kicked off a campaign on Thursday to pressure Darden Restaurants, Inc., the parent company of Olive Garden, to treat animals better before slaughtering them. The coalition also wants the restaurant conglomerate to be more environmentally conscious and to nix the practice of tipping waiters when service is tolerable.
“Darden has a unique opportunity and responsibility to use its considerable purchasing power to support a healthier, fairer and more sustainable food system,” the “Good Food Now!” coalition, which includes the Animal Welfare Institute, the Food Chain Workers Alliance and Friends of the Earth, said in a statement sent to The Daily Caller.
“We ask Darden to adopt better labor practices and greener menus that support the well-being of its customers, its workers, farmers, animals and our environment,” the group also said.
The activist alliance is demanding that Darden reduce its purchases of red meat and dairy products by 20 percent, obtain meat only from producers which meet certain above-industry standards and buy more organic food from farmers near its 844 international locations — including a trio of locations in Kuwait.
While Olive Garden, the ubiquitous casual dining restaurant chain specializing in Italian-American cuisine, is the focus of the coalition’s campaign, Darden does $6.7 billion in annual sales and owns a number of eatery brands including LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze and Eddie V’s Prime Seafood. (The company also owned Red Lobster until 2014.)
The “Good Food Now!” coalition’s complaints about Darden’s corporate practices are many.
“Darden claims it values and respects animals, but has shown little public commitment to improving animal welfare throughout its supply chain,” Animal Welfare Institute farm animal policy analyst Michelle Pawliger said in the group’s press statement.
“We urge Olive Garden and Darden to meet the growing demand for better meat raised without routine antibiotics and to reduce its carbon and water footprint by putting more plant-based foods on the menu.” Friends of the Earth spokeswoman Kari Hamerschlag added.
The group also wants Olive Garden and Darden to provide generous sick leave for employees, increase wages and eliminate the time-honored custom of tipping wait staff.
“As the world’s largest full service restaurant and the world’s largest employer of tipped workers, Darden could be a leader in advocating for a fair wage for all workers, but instead spends millions lobbying to keep the minimum wage for tipped workers at $2.13,” Restaurant Opportunities Center-United Saru Jayaraman said.
Jayaraman also argued tips are a kind of subsidy from restaurant guests.
The “Good Food Now!” coalition wants Olive Garden to give customers smaller portions of food as well.
Thus far, the coalitions’ campaign is not going well. The group’s attempt to set up meetings with Darden in the fall was an abysmal failure. The company responded with a letter rebuffing meetings and generally rejecting the demands set forth.Unfazed, the “Good Food Now!” coalition is asking Twitter users “to spread the campaign on social media” using the hashtag #GoodFoodNow. (RELATED: 7 Hashtags That Prove Twitter Activism Can Change Human History)
Olive Garden is certainly no stranger to the news. In 2013, police said, a 36-year-old high school history teacher in the suburban sprawl of Houston openly took a 16-year-old female student to a local Olive Garden on a date while he was carrying on a sexual relationship with her. They walked arm in arm through the parking lot, according to court documents. (RELATED: High School Teacher Impresses 16-Year-Old Sweetheart With A Date To Olive Garden)