Why Arby's Was Criticized Over Its Venison Sandwich

Venison sandwich on a fast food chain menu? Yup, you heard that right, though it may not be that surprising to find it at Arby's, a fast food restaurant known for their meat-heavy menu. Their roast beef options may be what Arby's is known for but you can find plenty of other meat possibilities, too. If you're in the mood for burgers topped with brisket, chicken, ham, or roast beef, Arby's has you covered.

Arby's, like other restaurant chains, is always looking to expand their offerings and attract new customers to their menu. In 2018, they put duck on the menu for a limited time, according to USA Today. Also in recent years, in an effort to always add different types of meat to their menu, Arby's released a limited-time option that didn't go over so well: A venison burger, which, for those of you who don't already know, is deer meat.

Unexpected critics rose up against Arby's over the venison burger

Venison meat isn't easy to source in the United States because it's not commercialized. So when you do find deer meat on the menu, it's usually at upscale restaurants. Dave Chadwick, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation, told NPR regarding Arby's decision to include venison sandwich on their menu, "We really shouldn't be selling game animals for food." Although his organization is made up of hunters and conservationists, Chadwick explained that the United States had a major problem with overhunting bison, elk, deer, and other antler-wielding animals in the 19th century. "One of the real drivers of America's wildlife crisis in the 19th century was unregulated market hunting and the idea that big game animals were being shot and sold for food," he said.

It makes sense that conservationist groups would be concerned, especially when a meat isn't typically available to the masses is all of a sudden offered cheaply in a fast food joint. But Arby's doesn't have it that easy when it comes to sourcing the meat. Arby's purchased venison all the way from New Zealand because it's not feasible or attainable to buy in the States, according to NPR, which is good news for those who are worried that people may have a new favorite type of meat.

Arby's Bourbon-based mistake

Serving up venison sandwiches wasn't the only situation to stir up controversy at Arby's. This meat focused chain with the mantra, "We have the meats," was sued in 2012 for allegedly stealing a slogan for their limited-time Bourbon bacon sandwiches. It only took three words to get in trouble: "Eat your Bourbon." 

Bourbon Barrel Foods, a gourmet specialty food shop based out of Louisville, Kentucky, trademarked this phrase as a slogan for their bourbon-based sauce business, which specializes in various condiments, such as Worcestershire sauce, barbecue sauce, and bourbon-smoked sea salt. The owner, Matt Jamie, wasn't happy that a huge fast food chain had borrowed his phrasing but dropped the lawsuit when Arby's agreed that a slogan wasn't worth fighting for and opted for another catch phrase (via Eater).

The slogan initially was highlighted on Arby's website and in an email newsletter to customers, according to Insider. Though their substitute slogan for those bourbon-focused sandwiches, "We Paired Bourbon With Meats. And Buns," wasn't quite as catchy, it wasn't going to cause headaches and legal drama.

Arby's deliberately mocked vegetarians

If you're not a fan of meat, or stick to a vegetarian or vegan diet, Arby's isn't going to be a preferred choice when it comes to fast food options. Their menu is very limited when it comes to non-meat items with mostly fried and potato options, such as curly fries, crinkle fries, mozzarella sticks, jalapeño bites, and salads, and if you're hoping for a sandwich, you can skip the line because they don't serve up a single vegetarian option. But what may be surprising is: That's on purpose.

In fact, when they debuted brown sugar bacon in 2015, they created an "An Open Letter From Arby's to Vegetarians Across America," mocking vegetarians by saying they would have a hard time resisting their meat sandwiches. They joked that even non-meat eaters would be tempted to give in to their carnivore desires and could call an invented Vegetarian support hotline, according to PR Newswire. "When your nose betrays you and alerts the rest of your senses to find and devour this sweet meat, please call 1-855-MEAT-HLP," their message said.

As if that wasn't enough, the message continued, "You will receive the support you need to resist this gateway meat and get tips on how to avoid temptation. Delicious. Sizzling. Temptation." Needless to say, this rubbed many vegetarians and vegans the wrong way.