Am I A Bad Gay Man For Still Loving Chick-Fil-A?
Like many other children of my generation, I was rewarded for good behavior with fast food. Aside from giving rise to the now-unstoppable epidemic of childhood obesity, this has triggered a mass epidemic of greasy nostalgia. Much like Proust and his madeleine, the lightest hint of a salted McDonald’s fry transports a child of the ‘90’s to a simpler time of afternoons watching Nickelodeon and actively committing the evolution of Pokémon breeds to memory. My particular brand of artery-clogging flashback comes courtesy of Chick-Fil-A, a chain restaurant of chicken-based deliciousness that is a hallmark of the American South. But most of you probably know them for their highly public anti-gay agenda.
Chick-Fil-A began as a single store in the middle of backwoods Georgia as a store called Dwarf House. S. Truett Cathy, a man who would be celebrating his 95th birthday next week, founded it after serving in the Army in WWII. Cathy was a devoutly religious man, teaching Sunday school at the First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Georgia every week of his life. He was also, as time would tell, kind of a fucking dick.
In 2012, news broke of Chick-Fil-A’s donations to numerous groups with flagrant disregard to gay rights. Under the banner of their charity branch WinShape, Chick-Fil-A donated several million dollars to organizations like the Marriage & Family Foundation, the Family Research Council, and the Georgia Family Council, just to name a few. These groups essentially serve the same purpose; promote the Christian values of a heteronormative family through the persecution of the LGBT community, which include things like the “Scared Straight” camps, a summer retreat for Christian families to send their children to “pray the gay away.”
Chick-Fil-A’s Vice-President and son of founder S. Truett Cathy, Donald “Bubba” Cathy, even founded an organization called the Marriage and Family Legacy Fund with the company’s money. This is a branch of the not-so-subtly named Anti-Gay Marriage CoMission, a collection of groups with no regard for the rules of capital letters and a purpose to combat “the downward spiral of marriage and the traditional family in America.”
Naturally, people were not thrilled that their well-earned money spent toward bite-size nuggets and fresh-brewed sweet tea was being put in the service of anti-gay crusaders. However, Chick-Fil-A had always been incredibly transparent about their overtly Christian management and beliefs, which included other Jesus-geared charities and the oblique fact that they were closed every single Sunday. But the backlash was widespread enough to force the company into an obligatory apology and a subsequent decrease in their charitable donations to homo-haters.
Companies with anti-gay agendas are of course not limited to the bigotry of the South. About a year later, Italian pasta giant Barilla found itself in hot water after chairman Guido Barilla flat out said they would never, ever consider using a gay family in their advertisements because “the concept of a sacred family remains a basic value of the company.” In a fairly unsurprising outcome, people in both Europe and America got pissed, and the standard company backtrack/apology followed shortly.
Now the issue is not whether its fair to continue picking on these companies after they’ve done a good job distancing themselves from their sordid pasts (though in all fairness, why shouldn’t we?). Nor is the issue whether or not it’s morally compromising to continue to support these companies. That answer is a resounding yes. The issue at stake here is how to stop supporting these kinds of companies, because if my experience is any indication, you can’t.
To put it simply, I cannot not support Chick-Fil-A. Their product is just that fucking good. The flavor and succulence of their bite-size nuggets is so unique in the fast food market that I proudly give them money, knowing that at one point or another said money has gone into the hands of Christian bigots trying to take away my equal rights as a human. Chick-Fil-A is the only fast food chain that serves waffle fries and charitable discrimination in equal amounts, yet my love for the former allows me to completely ignore the latter.
This begs the question: am I a terrible gay man? In this circumstance, my fondness for a 12-piece box of nuggets outweighs my concern for equality for my fellow queers. If I was put face to face with some of the families directly affected by the hate-organizations funded by Chick-Fil-A, would I be able to tell them I supported their demise out of a need for quality poultry?
Now a simple conclusion is that I am either a) a slave to capitalism, or b) a selfish asshole. But I am of the firm belief that the product of a morally bankrupt company determines the punishment. Barilla pasta for example, had to reckon with their company image, because there are a dozen other companies that make shitty noodles and marinara sauce for the exact same low price. But Chick-Fil-A is an anomaly; there aren’t any other companies selling their product. No single fast food chain has a menu comprised solely of chicken sandwiches, nuggets, fries, and milkshakes. These people even serve breaded-chicken oriented breakfast. No where else on earth can one buy a breaded-chicken and scrambled egg burrito at 9am with a chicken biscuit on the side for less than $5.
So if we accept the fact that I willingly will buy from a corporation with shit morals if they sell something I can’t get anywhere else, where does that leave the corporations with shit morals who sell something I can get anywhere? Again, I can easily avoid Barilla pasta in favor of a handful of others. But what if a corporation is so large that they sell all kinds of products, enough where avoiding their products is nearly impossible? Which brings us to my favorite example of a wholly evil, omnipotent multi-national Leviathan: Nestlé.
Nestlé, as we all know, is one of the largest food and beverage based companies on the planet. They own everything from Cheerios to Hot Pockets to Häagen-Dazs to 72 different brands of water. Here’s a list of everything they own to really let that sink in. Now Nestlé has a pretty shady history of doing really terrible things to people. Some of these things included using children in the Ivory Coast to grow the cocoa beans in your Nesquick, sneaking horse meat into microwavable beef tortellini, and marketing baby formula to villages in Latin America and West Africa with sales girls disguised as nurses, leading to mass infection and malnutrition when mothers used contaminated water supplies instead of their breasts to feed their now starving and diseased children.
I like Chips Ahoy! and Raisinets just as much as the next guy, but even that must give the most die-hard, brand-committed via nostalgia consumers pause for thought. The danger of a company as big as Nestlé is that boycotting their products is almost a non-option. Your money is going to end up in their pockets one way or another, whether it’s accidentally buying a certain brand of dog food, or getting a San Pellegrino on your first date in an Italian restaurant because your romantic interest said “sparkling” when the waiter asked what water you wanted. There are some corporations that you just cannot escape.
Which brings us all back to Chick-Fil-A, and the memory of dearly departed S. Truett Cathy. If there is a corporation that you can easily avoid, should you do so? Yes, you should–but this world isn’t so black and white. We keep buying from these places because tasty products trump moral obligations every time. I love my fellow queers, but if I find myself down South, I will get one of those bigot boxes of nuggets every God damn time. Happy Birthday Mr. Cathy. The memory of your success will live on in hypocrites bound to the nostalgia of flavor like me.
Original imagery by Kathryn Chadason. Additional images via Forbes, Barilla, Fugoes, and PBS.
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