Fair warning to my readers outside the US: Americans have got their panties in a major twist this month about some chicken sandwiches.
My dad introduced me properly to Chick-fil-A when I visited my parents a few months ago.
He had been rhapsodizing about Chick-fil-A for at least two or three days by the time we stepped up to the counter: the hot, tasty chicken sandwich with fresh lettuce and tomato, the waffle fries, and most of all, the milkshakes.
I doubt he remembers his kids’ high school graduation as well as he remembers his first taste of the Chick-fil-A Banana Pudding Milkshake: according to him, the treat was both arctic cold and yet still easy to sip through a straw. Real bananas swam in vanilla ice cream and met ultimate bliss with ‘Nilla Wafer cookie crumbles that retained their delicious crunch.
But that wasn’t all – Dad also extolled the stellar customer service at Chick-fil-A. Not only would they serve you the best chicken sandwich in the biz, they’d make you feel like a king.
When we went to Chick-fil-A, the girl behind the counter beamed as if she’d been waiting for us all day, and the chicken sandwich and milkshake were everything I heard they’d be.
The next week, I dragged myself to the mall (I needed an outfit for a job interview). Hungry and trembling with the exhausted vexation of a full-figured woman searching for a blazer that fits in the arms and waist as well as the bust, I saw the red Chick-fil-A marquee at the food court.
As I sat down at a table with my sandwich, I realized that it needed a spot of mayo. There was a long line at the counter and I could only see ketchup packs. Just as I decided to do without, an elderly man in a Chick-fil-A apron appeared at my left elbow.
“How are you doing today, miss?” he said. “Are you enjoying your lunch? Do you have everything you need today?”
“Hi,” I said. “Actually, I was hoping for some mayonnaise.”
He smiled with pleasure, reached into his apron pocket, and handed me a pack of mayo.
“You have a great day, now,” he said, before moving onto the Chick-fil-A lunchers at the next table.
I was transfixed for several moments by the shock of being waited upon in the mall food court, where the closest thing to customer service is the cleaning staff sweeping the floor right where your feet are resting.
“He drives Chick-fil-A’s efforts to provide genuine hospitality, ensuring that customers have an exceptional dining experience in a Chick-fil-A restaurant,” the Baptist Press said of Dan Cathy in a July 16th article.
Chick-fil-A’s proud Christian foundation has been a source of moderate controversy for a long time – devotees of their chicken sandwiches have long bemoaned the company’s strict policy of closing on Sundays.
Oh, and there’s the small matter of Cathy’s public preference for the “Biblical definition of the family unit”, reconfirmed in the same Baptist Press piece.
We could dwell on which Biblical family Cathy admires: King Solomon’s extraordinary assemblage of concubines, or perhaps Jacob’s marriage to the sisters Leah and Rachel and his subsequent fecund, wife-approved romps with two handmaidens. Or maybe Cathy would emulate King David, who sent Bathsheba’s husband off to die on the front lines after spying on her during her bath. Or maybe the law about a widow marrying her husband’s brother resonates best.
But what Cathy means, of course, is the Biblical importance of denying equal rights to homosexuals. His recent comments on the Ken Coleman Show claim that advocates of gay marriage are “prideful” and “arrogant”.
“We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,” he says.
Cathy’s comments about gays aren’t usually so pointed or inflammatory. In the past, he’s claimed that Chick-fil-A doesn’t discriminate against anyone, and that as a fast-food restaurant, they have no public political stance.
But gay-rights advocates in the US are pretty riled because of several million dollars Chick-fil-A has donated to far-right American groups that, depending on your source, advocate the “curing” of homosexuality with special reeducation programs, urge the reinstatement of laws against sodomy, teach that homosexuality is naturally associated with pedophilia, and lobby against the repeal of Ugandan laws that punish homosexuality with death.
There hasn’t been a mass shooting, major US natural disaster, or politician caught in a humiliating affair for about two or three weeks over here. Granted, the Olympics are going on. But that doesn’t provide nearly the angst outlet that we need.
So….Chick-fil-A hates gays! TO THE INTERNET!
The fallout has had more unexpected plotlines than a “Game of Thrones” novel.
Among loud lamentations at how tragic it will be to cut this delicious chicken out of our lives, there’s the Chick-fil-A boycott by my liberal peers, who declare that not another penny of their money will go towards donations to hate groups. There was the “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” counter-wave, in which thousands of good southern Christians lined up around the block for chicken sandwiches to show their support for NOT supporting the gays.
Chick-fil-A noted record-breaking sales.
Meanwhile, the wider fray was already breaking into more factions than the rebels of Syria.
Multiple city politicians announced to the press that Chick-fil-A would be blocked from building restaurants in their jurisdictions because of Cathy’s views. A tsunami of self-appointed pundits-turned-Constitutional-scholars fought back to define the proper roles not of women and men, but of business and the government.
While we all got our Constitutional dander up, guerilla skirmishes on first-amendment free speech flared as Facebook apparently disabled a page supporting Chick-fil-A, and then quickly reinstated it. Free-speech stalwarts pointed out that Cathy is entitled to his point of view, while a flood of suspiciously anecdotal news stories countered that the free-speech dispute is irrelevant because discrimination is in action at Chick-fil-A, from gay employees who feel compelled to stay in the closet at work to a woman who claims she was fired because her Chick-fil-A manager said women should be stay-at-home moms.
Business experts were more interested in coolly debating whether corporate presidents helped or hurt their profits by taking public stances on hot political and religious issues.
Anti-gay Christians rejoiced that so many people are still willing to rally to their agenda, as evidenced by the epic queues at Chick-fil-A locations below the Mason-Dixon Line. Gay-rights advocates rejoiced that the last corporate stronghold of anti-gay sentiment in America was nothing but a chicken-sandwich chain.
Meanwhile, the high-minded hipster gentry got to work pointing out everyone’s terminal hypocrisy, declaring that those waiting in line to support Chick-fil-A would never flood the volunteer lists of a homeless shelter with such zeal, as Jesus would no doubt want them to, while also taking their secular community-garden buds to task for boycotting Chick-fil-A without also boycotting companies like Apple, Amazon or McDonalds for their egregious violation of things like fair working standards. An NPR commentator pointed out that mayors publicly decrying Chick-fil-A for anti-gay bigotry have ignored proven and persistent racial discrimination in their own districts.
Other commentators held forth on bullying, while others devised all sorts of ways to bedevil Chick-fil-A: ordering chicken while dressed in drag or, based on an obscure Bible passage about providing food and water to your guests, demanding free food of Chick-fil-A employees, if they’re so Christian and all. Gay-rights enthusiasts responded to Chick-fil-A appreciation Day by staging a nationwide same-sex kiss-in at Chick-fil-A restaurants.
And in perhaps my favorite development of all, fat-acceptance activists have begun blasting liberals who try to shame habitual Chick-fil-A eaters for being fat: fighting homophobia with fat-ism is just trading one form of bigotry for another!
All we need is a questionable study linking Chick-fil-A to autism in children of gay parents, and we could keep the controversy going until next Wednesday, at least.
One thing I wonder about is our possibly overblown notion of ownership. If I have converted my money into a chicken sandwich, and then enjoyed said sandwich, do I have cause to make any demands on what Chick-fil-A does with what was formerly my money?
While there is something to be said for voting with your dollar, and buying products from socially and environmentally responsible companies, I can’t imagine tracking every dollar I spend, to make sure that the business who’s got it is disposing of it in a way that pleases me. That dollar ain’t mine anymore and its fate isn’t my business – I traded it for a goldfish or a bottle of nail polish or a banana.
If Dan Cathy gives a fraction of his profits to anti-gay groups, am I complicit in that, when really all I did was convert my dollar into waffle fries? As soon as I polish off the fries, I have no claim on that dollar anymore. Why should the occasional cheerfully-served, heavenly Chick-fil-A milkshake dog my conscience?
As I type, I can practically hear the screams of the progressive mob, who would behead my spineless rhetoric faster than Henry VIII would dispatch an unwanted wife.
The truth is, I can think of better ways to support gay rights than NOT eating at Chick-fil-A. But I doubt that I’ll eat Chick-fil-A again, at least in Philadelphia. Despite what my parents think about my working in the “big city”, it’s really a pretty small town around here, especially if you’ve got the network of a journalist. I can hardly step off the train without running into someone in the crowd that I know.
God forbid they see me with a Chick-fil-A bag. They might think I’m a bigot. Or a Christian. Or a bully. Or a Constitutional law enthusiast. Or a gay-marriage opponent. Or a fat person. Or a fat-activist-hater. Or a Republican. Or a free-speech zealot. Or a hungry, weak-willed liberal. Or, worst of all, an ignoramus who doesn’t read blogs at all.