Young and Hungry

Playing Chicken: Should Chick-fil-A’s Politics Ruin Your Appetite?

Maybe it’s the crack-like 340-calorie, 85-gram sugar-bomb large lemonade talking, but I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for the nuggets at Chick-fil-A, the popular Georgia-based fried chicken chain known for luring food-court trollers with free samples at shopping malls across the country.

Call it a guilty pleasure, heavy on the guilt.

Not only are these greasy golden-brown morsels (retail price: $4.69 for a 12-pack) packed with sodium (1490 mg) and cholesterol (105 mg), among other dubious things, but the tasty nugs come loaded with sociopolitical baggage, too.

In recent weeks, news broke that a Maryland-based franchisee of the national fast-food chain would soon roll out a new food truck, slinging its signature chicken sandwiches and nuggets on the streets of D.C. The upshot: A reignited debate about the company’s apparent conservative agenda and whether your lunch money is better spent elsewhere.

Critics point to millions of dollars in donations by the chain’s charitable arm, the WinShape Foundation, to a number of groups whose espoused views on gay rights lie somewhere along the spectrum between Rick Santorum and Kirk Cameron. These reported financial ties have inspired boycotts and protests at Chick-fil-A locations around the country. Just last month, students at Northeastern University voted to block Chick-fil-A from opening on its campus in Boston.

Last year, company president Dan Cathy publicly downplayed the controversy, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “We’re not anti-anybody. Our mission is to create raving fans.”

Yet the raving goes on from both fans and foes alike.

Locally, outposts of the chicken chain at both American University and Howard University have quietly closed in recent years, leaving only a single location, a stripped-down, ready-made, highway truck stop-style outlet at Catholic University as the District’s last remaining licensee of the fried fowl franchise.

With that glaring greasy finger food gap in mind, Keith Singletary, operator of two Chick-fil-A stores in Prince George’s County, developed the food truck concept “as an opportunity to reach out to new potential raving fans,” he says. “Eventually, Chick-fil-A will be in Washington, D.C.,” Singletary predicts. “Until that time, we’re going to do everything we can to help pave the way.”

Singletary is hoping to rev up the engine and internal fryers by the end of April.

For undaunted devotees of the chain’s pressure-cooked, peanut-oil-soaked chicken, the forthcoming food truck promises a more convenient way to satisfy their cravings than schlepping out to Arlington or Silver Spring for a fix. For detractors, meanwhile, it may present a new and constantly moving target for dissent.

Asked to address the latest uptick in anti-corporate rhetoric, a spokesman at Chick-fil-A headquarters would not comment.

For his part, Singletary largely sticks to the company line. “Chick-fil-A really is a neutral organization,” he says. “The company is founded on biblical principles, but our philosophy, if you go into any Chick-fil-A restaurant, is that you’ll never see any signage or statement that we support this candidate or that candidate or anything like that. Our goal is to get the message out to eat more chicken. That’s really the only issue.”

Singletary adds that he doesn’t expect any protests or anything of that sort when his food truck finally gets moving in the District, though he acknowledges the possibility. “If that happens, we certainly can’t control what others might do,” he says.

Official dismissals aside, the company’s financial dealings may be enough to a make any self-professed progressive-minded diner think twice about ordering those tasty nuggets. And, yet, every time I pass that red cursive logo with the cutesy chicken beak protruding from its capital ‘C,’ I find it terribly difficult to resist.

Does that make me a homophobe by proxy? Maybe.

The Chick-fil-A fracas is only the most recent politically-tinged controversy over District dining. Last year, after the proprietor of Adams Morgan gastropub the Black Squirrel appeared to beat up on immigrants in online comments, critics organized a boycott. Sample Twitter brickbat: “Dear Black Squirrel, you’re a bar. I come to you for good beer, not to support political grandstanding,” wrote @consciousstream.

But can you enjoy the beer—or the chicken nuggets—without worrying about the grandstanding?

If you believe that every dollar you spend and every bit of food that you pile into your pie hole is, in a sense, a political statement—and, in this town, with its prevailing ethics on local sourcing, organic goods and sustainability, an awful lot of people sure seem to—then, no. It’s a simple case of following the money. In regard to Chick-fil-A, for instance, your fast-food dollars support the local franchisee, who, in turn, pays fees to the corporate honchos in Georgia. The bigwigs then pour excess profits into the causes of their choice. As a paying customer, you’re financially complicit, however marginally, unwittingly or indirectly it might seem.

For conscientious objectors, there appears to be only one solution for guilt-free eating. It’s something Bible-thumping conservatives tend to talk a lot about: abstinence.

Staging a boycott, though, may have its limits. Refraining from drinking beer at your local pub over an owner’s politically charged comment could have immediate financial consequences for a small business like Black Squirrel. Or not. “I’m sure some people stayed away,” says co-owner Tom Knott. “Does it still resonate today? I don’t know.” Regardless, Black Squirrel is still in business.

When you’re talking about a multi-billion-dollar corporation like Chick-fil-A, however, losing even a few thousand offended diners could prove inconsequential to the overall bottom line. Even if D.C. diners entirely snub their noses at a Chick-fil-A food truck, that, in itself, probably won’t have much impact on which social causes a handful of corporate execs in suburban Atlanta decide to support.

In the face of such daunting odds, an otherwise righteous diner might as well just throw up his hands and say, “Fuck it. Holding on to my $3.19 isn’t going to change anybody’s beliefs. I’m hungry, and I want my chicken sandwich.”

There may be a better way to support equal rights without resorting to self-deprivation at the chicken counter. I like this approach: A friend of mine, Trey Pollard, offers a clever—albeit slightly more costly—way to offset the karma of his chicken sandwich purchases. He now matches every dollar he spends on food at Chick-fil-A with an equal donation to an organization that supports gay rights, either the national Human Rights Campaign, or an outfit right in Chick-fil-A’s backyard, Georgia Equality. So far, his personal poultry-laden charity drive has totaled nearly $100 in matching donations.

It’s a far cry from the millions in play from Chick-fil-A’s foundation. But, if it takes away the curse of dogma-laden food truck nuggets, count me in.

Illustration by Brooke Hatfield

Eatery tips? Food pursuits? Send suggestions to hungry@washingtoncitypaper.com.

Comments

  1. #1

    For his part, Singletary largely sticks to the company line. “Chick-fil-A really is a neutral organization,” he says. “The company is founded on biblical principles, but our philosophy, if you go into any Chick-fil-A restaurant, is that you’ll never see any signage or statement that we support this candidate or that candidate or anything like that. Our goal is to get the message out to eat more chicken. That’s really the only issue.”

    BULL!

    The Oxnard CA location was surrounded by PRO Prop-8 signs.

  2. #2

    The end of this smacks of "having a conscience won't change anything so why bother?" Maybe my refusal to patronize a business that funds efforts to deny my civil rights as a LGBTQ person won't stop that business from doing so but it will enable me to sleep better at night to know that I've not given a penny to fund my oppression (and that of my cohort) for the sake of unhealthy and garbage food.

    Having a moral code and cleaving to it has its own reward. When it also improves your physical wellbeing, all the better.

  3. #3

    Yes, Tom Knott, your racism DOES still resonate. I belong to a national group that recently decided to hold a DC meetup of about 50 local members. A member of the group unaware of the history with the Black Squirrel chose it as the location and reserved the third floor for our group. As soon as this was announced on the group's national mailing list, the list exploded with objection. We're now meeting elsewhere.

    This all happened this week, so I'll give Mr. Knott the benefit of the doubt that he talked to this blogger before that and wasn't actually lying when he said he had no idea if anyone cared anymore. Either way, the answer is yes. We care. Words have consequences. And conscience has a long memory.

  4. #4

    I stopped paying attention here:
    ...“Chick-fil-A really is a neutral organization,” he says. “The company is founded on biblical principles...

  5. #5

    Before I buy something am I supposed to research how every penny I spend is used? Get real. McDonald's has for decades fought for a sub-minimum wage and against laws providing for a safe work environment. Yet, that hasn't kept people from eating there. Nor has all that money given to McDonald's brought about those deplorable conditions.

  6. #6

    Mr. Shott, you failed to mention that on the Chic Filet job applications, they state they are closed on Sundays, "so our employees can attend church with their families"
    This defies everything I learned in business school, no other restaurant chain is closed on Sundays

  7. #7

    Or, you know, we could ban corporate campaign donations...but, that'd be like communist, or fascist, or something, right?

  8. #8

    knowing what ch-fil-a stands for just makes me want to eat there more. its about time more business' adhered by a real american policy. rather than pander to the twisted sick world many of today's people deem "appropriate".

  9. #9

    I just want to second what Alleyne said so eloquently:

    I don't think making a matching donation to the HRC or Georgia Equality is going to offset the damage done by whatever anti-gay groups Chic-Fil-A corporate supports.

    (Besides the fact that the HRC is just a bunch of rich, cisgendered white men who don't really care about LGBTQ rights - they're more interested in passing money back and forth among themselves and their "sponsors". They honored and partnered with Goldman $achs for crying out loud.)

  10. #10

    This is one of those things where there is no right answer. If donating to a GLBTQ organization soothes your soul, do it. If not, don't eat there. Ultimately no choice you make will have an impact so just go with whatever works for you. And be happy you're fortunate enough to actually have a choice about what you won't eat.

  11. #11

    The main issue is that Chick-fil-A food is gross--there's so many better food options, on wheels or not, in DC.

  12. #12

    Chick-fil-a chicken is nasty. if you eat it, you deserve all the bad things that will happen to you. I tried it exactly twice, before I discovered their repusilve political philosophy. I aslo don't buy Domino's pizza, for the same reasons: nasty taste, repulsive politics.

  13. #13

    Just thought I would complete my thought from above about the gross food--

    Here's what they call a pickle:
    pickle (cucumbers, water, vinegar, salt, lactic acid, calcium chloride, alum, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate [preservatives], natural flavors, polysorbate 80, yellow 5, blue 1)

    Go to their website to see the hundred other ingredients that go into their basic chicken sandwich.

    Besides their abhorrent politics--why eat their stuff when we can do much better in DC???

  14. #14

    The short answer is: Most people don't care.

    Despite the incessant negative reporting on Walmart for years and years, it remains one of the most profitable companies out there. People just don't care.

    It's not exactly like Chick-fil-a's politics are unknown. Say what you will about Red Hot & Blue's food, but one of my friends really likes it. I suspect if he ever found out that *Republicans* founded the restaurant, he'd stop eating there. How about the person I know who refuses to step foot into Busboys and Poets? Or the people who try to boycott Sean Penn films? Or perhaps people who boycott films produced by people who send money to countries they don't like?

    I suspect that of those people who refuse to patron the restaurant chain, most would have never set foot in the place to begin with simply because it's fast food and/or because there are "so many better food options," the politics are just icing on the cake. And if you do care: Stop going. Based on the demand of the one down the street from me, the drive-thru line probably won't get any less congested.

  15. #15

    Aside from being closed on Sunday's, they do not force any of their religious or political views on patrons. I could understand protesting or being upset if they forced their views on people or if they denied service to people that didn't share their views but they don't. So how can people condemn them and force their liberal views on the company? That's like saying "I can't be your friend because we don't share the same beliefs. I know you never force your views on me, and I know that you've never treated me any differently, but I don't like that you don't agree with me so I'm ditching you." Who's being closed minded in this scenario? If you like the food, then eat it. If you don't like the food, then don't eat it. But just remember that they have a right to choose who they want to support as do we all.

  16. #16

    Why MUST we stick it to someone simply because we disagree on something? I believe in man/woman marriage but my brother is gay so.....what now? We just disagree...no big deal. I still love him completely. I'm not gonna protest EVERYONE who disagrees with me because if I'm wrong about ONE thing, that means they're right. So, what if I get someone who IS right to actually stop what they are doing because of my need to be right? It's called being different....geez!

  17. #17

    The bottom line is, do you want your consumer dollars supporting a business run by bigots?

    That SHOULD be an easy question!

    If Chick-Fil-A was run by Klansmen, or neo-Nazis, I would HOPE that it would be an easy decision to refuse to patronize their establishments.

    By that same logic, people of good conscience, gay or straight, should refuse to buy food at Chick-Fil-A because of the rabid homophobia of the chain's owners.

    It really is that simple!

  18. #18

    From Cord Jefferson's piece on Gawker:
    "If you find that it's impossible to stop eating at Chick-fil-A despite your deeply rooted pro-LGBT values, perhaps those values aren't as deep-seated as you think."

    Preach.

  19. #19

    If you can sleep at night with supporting the politics of a company you help pay for, then that's your answer. Your friend's solution is amongst the least intelligent (and frankly inefficient and unproductive) ideas. To give money to an organization to solve problems that your money helps create in the first place (CFA is NOT a necessity nor is it an irreplaceable good) is ridiculous. This is the pansiest, pandering, waffling piece I have read in a while, and I work in academia where apologists are a plenty. Take a lesson from Julia Child, have convictions.

  20. #20

    I support LBGT rights and understand if an individual decides to boycott this chain for reasons of personal conviction. What I cannot stand , however, is how quickly people attempt to condemn one another out of ignorance and hypocrisy. Let me ask this to anyone demanding that people abandon Chic-Fil-A:

    1.) Do you have a bank account with one of the major banks that was largely responsible for our economic collapse? (BoA, Citi, Chase, Wells Fargo, etc)

    2.) Do you have an Apple, Microsoft or HP product that utilizes overseas manufacturers that have been found to practice child/slave labor?

    3.) Do you disagree with the anti-privacy and selling of personal information practices of Facebook? Do you still use it?

    This list could go on forever, but it is simply an illustration of the point that you cannot condemn someone for not choosing to boycott a particular corporation when it is likely you are guilty of similarly supporting unethical companies.

    It's easy to pick and choose which ones you boycott as long as they are convenient for you to do so. We can share our knowledge of various atrocities these companies practice, but then we can only let people make the decision for themselves. You have no right to demand anything of others.

  21. #21

    The author should have mentioned that the (so-called) National Organization for Marriage recently started a world-wide boycott of Starbucks because they have the audacity to support marriage equality. Apparently, boycotts of Microsoft, Apple, Google, Nike, Levi's, JCP, and hundreds of other companies aren't necessary. Hypocrisy much?

    When the boycott against Chick-Fil-A first started, I read hundreds of comments where religious people pledged to frequent the restaurant even more than they had before. That must be that Christian Love™ that I keep hearing about. Is that really the company that you want to keep, just so you can eat a chicken sandwich?

    To McMannes: Do me a favor and look up the dictionary definition of "empathy". Because you have 'zero' of it for your brother. You've actually chosen a piece of chicken over the civil equality of your own brother. Yeah, I know making actual sacrifices sucks. As a gay man, I miss having a spicy chicken sandwich, carrot salad, and a Coke Zero. But I'm not going to financial support a company that funds anti-gay organizations. If you were gay, this wouldn't even be an issue for you. So why it is okay, just because you happen to be straight?

    As for "believing in man/woman marriage", what the hell does that even mean? I also believe in man/woman marriage. But I also believe in same-sex marriage. One doesn't replace the other. That's like saying, "I believe in same-race marriage, so I can't believe in race-mixing." Yes you can. One doesn't impact the other. Do me a favor and explain to me why Newt Gingrich or Rush Limbaugh has the right to marry three and four times, but your brother shouldn't have that right at all. Keep in mind that two of Newt's marriages and ALL of Rush's marriages were NON-procreating.

  22. #22

    Trey Pollard is most likely a liar. But he probably thinks he'll 'get around to it'.

  23. #23

    "For every dollar I spend at the KKK fundraiser I will give an offsetting dollar to the NAACP." Doesn't read so well.

  24. #24

    I'm sorry. Chick-fil-a is delicious and makes by far the best chicken sandwich of any fast food joint. You walk into any store and you are greeted by someone that actually cares about your eating experience, you get served quickly, the food is always hot, and its cheaper than other fast food chains. I've never seen anyone discriminated against for sexual orientation and managers walk around engaging dining customers. Every single corporation from whom you make a purchase will give a share of its money to some organization with morally repugnant ties. Does that mean we stop participating in the economy all together? Of course not. Instead, how about we go about our business enjoying the things we like while maintaining our individual conscience by doing things that have a more tangible effect on promoting our beliefs about social justice..?

  25. #25

    "fried fowl franchise." God I love alliteration.

  26. #26

    Dude, seriously, if you want to eat at Chick-fil-a eat at Chick-fil-a. Give up the guilt. It just doesn't fucking mean anything or help anything. Just live your goddamn life and be kind to the people you encounter. The person you order your chicken nuggets from could very well be gay or transgender and just trying to make ends meet. Stop trying to be smart and clever and the guy who does the right thing and just be the guy who is kind and loving to himself and those around him. And always order the waffle fries.

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