If anyone deserves a break today, it’s the poor PR team at McDonald’s Corporation (NYSE:MCD).

Just this week, the fast-food flacks had to put in overtime to combat a viral photo of pink goop that was supposedly made from the insides of Chicken McNuggets. McDonald’s debunked the photo by posting a video that purported to show a behind-the-scenes look at McNuggets in the making at a Canadian processing plant.

Now the company is facing a celebrity-fueled campaign calling for a “healthy meatless option” at the world’s largest hamburger chain. The effort comes courtesy of Kathy Freston, a wellness activist and vegan self-help author.

Freston became inspired to launch a Change.org petition after hearing comments made by Don Thompson, McDonald’s chief executive, who conceded in an earnings call last month that the company has “lost some of our customer relevance.” The petition, which calls on the fast-food giant to add “plant-based protein options” to its menu, is now one of the fastest-growing health-related petitions on Change.org, according to a rep for the site. With the help of numerous celebrities spreading the word on social media -- including Alicia Silverstone, Russell Simons, Kevin Eubanks and Pam Anderson, among others -- the petition has attracted more than 95,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon. It is seeking 150,000 before it is sent off to Thompson and several other McDonald’s executives.

The buzz has been building for almost two weeks. On Jan 23, the Facebook page for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” posted a link to the petition, which has since been shared more than 260 times. Even PETA is helping to spread the word.




Of course the notion of healthy options from a company synonymous with empty calories is attracting no shortage of snickers. “No one goes to McDonald’s for a salad,” posted one Facebook user who identified herself as a former employee.

Fast-food companies, while blamed in part for rising rates of obesity and diabetes, have long insisted that they should be at the same table with health officials tasked with combating such ailments. Conversely, dieticians and other critics warn that information on sound nutrition is being tainted by corruptive influence from industry giants like the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO), General Mills Inc. (NYSE:GIS) and others.

McDonald’s currently offers a McVeggie burger in countries like India, where vegetarian diets are more popular, and McDonald’s veggie wraps are readily available in Canada and Europe. However, should the company heed Freston’s call, it would still face the challenge of that aforementioned loss of customer relevance. Reacting to Freston’s petition, many Twitter and Facebook users are saying that they would simply never eat at a McDonald’s.

In a statement, Freston said she understands that not everyone will be receptive to the idea, but she insists the two sides can find common ground. “I know there will be skeptics wondering what role fast food can play in solving the nation’s health problems, but this is all about progress, not perfection,” she said. “McDonald’s has an opportunity to make a smart business decision that can benefit millions of Americans looking to fight heart disease and obesity.”

Read Freston’s petition here.

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