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Faith and Food

Courts: Hindu sues Taco Bell for giving him beef burrito instead of bean one. He says bite he took violated religious principles.

January 25, 1998|HILARY MacGREGOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — A devout Hindu is suing a Taco Bell for serving him a beef burrito rather than the bean one he ordered.

The one bite of beef he chewed violated Mukesh K. Rai's most fundamental religious principle, causing him emotional distress as well as medical expenses and loss of wages, he claimed in his suit filed last week.

"Eating the cow, it was a really devastating experience," said Rai, reached at his Oxnard home Friday. "So much so that I had to go to a psychiatrist. I went to a doctor. I couldn't sleep."

Indeed, Rai said he has had to travel to England to perform a religious purification ceremony with Hindu masters.

And in March he will go to India for the ultimate purification: bathing in the waters of the Ganges River.

Taco Bell officials would not comment on the suit filed in Ventura County Superior Court.

According to the complaint, Rai ordered a bean burrito from the Taco Bell across from Ventura High School in April.

"He clearly repeated the order twice so that he would be ensured of not receiving a burrito with meat," the suit states.

"When he received his order he took a bite, and after chewing it he realized to his horror that it was a meat burrito," the suit continued.

His Santa Barbara-based lawyer, Joel Crosby, said the case has larger implications. "Although we don't have a large Hindu population, we do have a lot of vegetarians," Crosby said, adding that Taco Bell should take the suit very seriously.

"What about the mental impact here?" he said. "This is the equivalent of eating his ancestors."

Rai, who runs the pharmacy at a Carpinteria drugstore, said he has suffered great anguish from the incident. Moreover, he said, after he bit into the burrito, Taco Bell refused to give him a refund. Although the restaurant offered to exchange it for a bean burrito, the staff would not pay him the difference in price between the more expensive beef item and the cheaper bean version, he said.

"They say, 'What's the big deal? You ate meat,' " Rai said.

But it is a very big deal for Rai.

In India, the cow is a sacred animal to Hindus, considered a mother to everyone, he said.

Rai said Taco Bell initially showed interest in addressing his concerns but failed to take action.

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