Burger King Memoirs

Bilge Sen

Picture this – 2016. A fresh high school graduate born and raised in Helsinki.

In Finland, higher education and any sort of professional prospect were practically impossible for my demographic without nepotism, so I can't say much was going on in my life. I was pushing 20, which gave my daily dose of existential dread even more accelerated than ever before. Fueled by the fear of getting stuck in life, I managed to find an apartment with a high school friend and thus I left the nest to live on my own for the very first time.

The depression that was probably always there brewing inside of me had finally let loose and that year fucking sucked. With no job or school to attend to, I had nothing to do all day, which resulted in a mental downward spiral and a deep, chronic state of loneliness, which I “managed” with twenty-euro-per-gram-shitty-Finnish weed (what else?). I was malnourished and afraid. This is the state in which my journey towards plant-based living took off.

Growing up I had always been somewhat interested in veganism. At some point I made that mental connection that the meat in that plastic container at the store had to come from somewhere, and that someone had to be killed in order for those nuggets on my plate to exist. I had seen those gory videos that circulate Facebook where animals are being abused and killed at farms. A specific video that I could never forget was one where male chicks were ground up alive because they were of no use to the meat production industry. It just didn’t make sense to me that this was happening in the world and no one in my life was talking about it.

Before I left home I was trying to be vegan, but it just wasn’t working out. Trying to start a different diet when living with family can be really difficult: you don’t even know what you’re doing yourself, and then you have your family members questioning your choices or giving you shit for complicating their dinner time. My main difficulties lay in not doing my own groceries and not knowing yet how to cook for myself properly. What ended up happening was that I would just eventually forget about trying to change my diet. I just didn’t stick to it.

Back in 2016, I watched a documentary that discussed animal products, animal agriculture and human health. It had a huge impact on me, and since now I finally lived  by myself, I made the decision to stop buying animal products completely. It was a long time coming and I finally decided to try properly. I would still eat animal products if someone else had prepared food just in order to avoid that uncomfortable social situation. At the time I had no mental strength to explain myself to anyone.

Being unemployed and all, at some point I had to look for a job. Considering Finland's economic state and the status you have on the job market as a high school graduate, the only positions available were of supermarket cashiers and fast food workers. So when I finally got a job at Burger King it truly felt like winning the lottery. I remember receiving the news while in town with my roommate, and she screamed out of excitement and happiness for me.

That job was exactly how I expected it to be. I made no friends because essentially everyone was annoying. The shift managers were openly racist and treated you in dehumanizing ways. To illustrate with specific real-life  examples: a ten-minute “lunch” break during six hour shifts or the requirement to ask for permission not to piss or shit yourself. During those heavenly ten minutes of a break, you had to go grab your own food from the back room, bring it to the kitchen, wait for your turn to use the microwave, warm your food, walk back, and eat. If you were lucky, you made it in time to also use the toilet. The boss was deranged and clearly projected her own hatred for her shitty life out on her employees. Working there most definitely took at least ten years off of my life span.

At the time, BK was selling bags of ten chicken nuggets for two euros. This dearly beloved campaign was so popular that we had to prepare probably a hundred chicken nuggets in advance in order to keep the customer flow running fast. When the joint would close its doors for the day, we were faced with throwing countless chicken nuggets along with other products in the trash each day. It wasn’t a surprise that Burger King put very little value on food, but seeing it with my own eyes still left me baffled. Obviously a place that sells borderline poison doesn’t care about the well-being of the animals that are slaughtered in order to make those products. But the way that food had absolutely no value when it wasn’t sold was just nauseating to me.

You would get yelled at if the managers caught you saving a nugget or two after your shift. Unsold food simply needed to end up at a landfill. It was normal protocol for you to not be allowed to have your only break of the shift when it was extremely busy, and you’d be told to make yourself a burger and take a bite here and there when you have a second while working. This burger you still had to pay for, of course. So, leftover food cannot be eaten by employees: if employees want to eat, they have to pay for it, even though their own food is sitting in the break room fridge.

My very first proper job opened my eyes to how I never want to set foot in a rotten system like this ever again. I also decided that eating animals is deranged and it only made me feel physically bad, so after I quit that job I started fully focusing on veganism. Personally, the shift was quite easy: my interest and motivation for it had been brewing for years and had finally peaked. I really wanted to be able to do it. But that BK experience definitely gave me even more rage-fueled determination.

Fast forward to 2021. Burger King offers vegan products in Europe and my personal favourite is the plant-based Long Chicken burger – my go-to order in high school before working for BK.

As much as I understand many people’s concern of supporting a multi-million dollar chain that itself contributes to the fucked up systematic destruction of living beings on this planet, I personally think this is a move in the right direction. Collectively shifting into a plant-based society simply won’t happen unless industry giants like BK acknowledge the rise of interest in plant-based living and add vegan items on their menu. Of course this is about money rather than ideology, but big companies run this world and they have a massive influence on the current status quo.

In the end not much has changed. The conditions for employees are the same and massive amounts of food are still being wasted. Animals are still being killed and tortured on a mass-scale and companies make profit from it. But the silver lining is that consumers can clearly influence even giant corporations like BK by choosing where to put their money. The more money is spent on vegan products, the more companies will make a shift towards the plant-based industry. So don’t feel bad for buying that vegan Whopper instead of making your own meal from organic-only ingredients: both are significantly better choices than the alternative.

Illustration by Rijn