We just finished two cross-country journeys in a Subaru Forester with a large dog. It’s a 4-day/3-night trip, with long, 10-12 hour driving days culminating in overnight stays in mediocre, pet-welcoming LaQuintas. There is little time or opportunity for interesting restaurant meals. All food is in our little cooler, picked up at a quick-stop market (the kind attached to gas stations) or obtained in a drive-through situation.
Yes, lots of fast food. Yes, I know it’s not good for us. By the second or third day, we don’t care.
On the upside, we play endless games of Twenty Questions, listen to talk radio and laugh a lot. Most of the trip is excruciatingly dull (lookin’ at yew, Texas panhandle). Because we’ve done this trip, out and back, for four years, we know how pointless it is to look for an interesting or healthy take-out meal on I-40, other than the odd Route 66 diner. McDonald’s makes good coffee and while we’re there, we might as well get a sausage biscuit—that’s the prevailing spirit of this driving marathon.
What we don’t do is eat at places that are politically problematic. Papa John’s, Wendy’s and Waffle House are out. And we never eat at Chick-Fil-A. I don’t mean just on-the-road eating. Neither of us had ever eaten at a Chick-Fil-A. In our whole lives.
This is not much of a sacrifice. There isn’t a Chick-Fil-A within three hours of our house—and only ten in our whole home state. Having serious socio-political problems with the founding principles of CFA, then deciding not to eat there is an empty gesture—unlike not buying L.L. Bean flannel sheets, which are awfully nice in a cold Michigan winter. But I have heard—from any number of people, especially those who live in the South—that Chick-Fil-A sandwiches, waffle fries and lemonade are super-tasty. The best.
So you know what’s coming, right? We’re in Oklahoma, and very low on gas, plus we all need a rest, so to speak. And it’s dinner time–we’re hungry. We choose an exit that looks promising—one that features multiple gas stations and a shopping center, plus a confusing ramp that feeds drivers into a traffic circle. We take care of business first, feed the dog, then start looking for a fast-food restaurant.
And the only one there is a Chick-Fil-A. There might be a restaurant in the shopping center, hidden, but we can’t wait for take-out food. We drive both ways, going through the annoying circle three times, until we run out of civilization. If we’re going to eat now, instead of an unknown number of miles down the road, it’s Chick-Fil-A. So—pledging each other to secrecy—we agree to, just this once, eat the forbidden fruit.
I ordered the signature chicken sandwich, waffle fries and lemonade. I have to say I was anticipating a much better than average fast food meal.
But it was gross. The meat was tough and squished together with cheese and pickles—who puts cheese on a chicken sandwich? —and the chicken coating was flavorless. The fries were limp, underdone and cool. And the lemonade was your standard artificial lemon-flavored beverage that begins as a powder and ends with a chemical aftertaste. There was a boatload of ice. And to top it off, one napkin apiece. My husband’s meal was equally grim.
There was a perky teenage window attendant, who gave us back correct change with a smile. But that’s a pretty low bar.
Now—fast food is always a hit-and-miss affair (I should know). I’ve had some truly terrible Quarter Pounders with cheese on these trips. The most variable food, in our experience, comes from Sonic, where the milkshakes are usually yummy, but anything fried tastes like small chunks of seasoned concrete. It’s possible we ran into a bad Chick-Fil-A.
But that’s not the point. The message here is that I’ve spent a couple righteous decades avoiding Chick-Fil-A, and I wasn’t missing anything. I thought about that lousy sandwich when I read about Grace Slick licensing one of her songs to Chick-Fil-A for a commercial, then giving the profits to an LGBTQ rights organization. Way to take a lemon and make (real) lemonade, Grace.
I’m all for standing on your principles—or better yet, using an opportunity to publicly demonstrate what those principles are and why, as folks seem to be doing in San Jose, by hanging Gay Pride flags near a proposed Chick-Fil-A in the airport. For every person refusing to eat a CFA sandwich, there’s probably another one proudly consuming them, thinking they’re MAGA-food. The trick is not to win the war, but to make people think.
Pete Buttigieg, on the campaign trail in South Carolina, recently said that while he sincerely dislikes Chick-Fil-A’s politics, he ‘sort of’ likes its chicken.
Buttigieg suggested that he could forge a peace deal between the LGBTQ community and the Atlanta-based fast-food chain, which has donated millions over the years to groups that oppose same-sex marriage. He says, “So maybe if nothing else I can build that bridge. Maybe I’ll be in a position to negotiate that peace deal.”
I can think some other peace deals where we could use that approach.
Do you eat at Chick-Fil-A?
I have avoided eating at Chick-Fil-A for the same reasons you have. I don’t shop at Walmart, order from LLBean, use Koch products, or drink Coors beer. One thing I do keep in mind, however, is that there are likely unknown problematic issues with many of the corporations with whom I interact. It’s difficult to avoid using products and services from everyone whose politics I disagree with. For example, since I drive a car and have to fill it with gasoline, I have probably given money to a corporation with which I disagree.
On the other hand, I’ll just continue to do the best I can, make the best choices I can make, and vote with my dollars (as well as my ballot). We’re all doing what we can.
Thanks for your comment. You’re exactly right–do what you can, knowing you’re not going to avoid everything questionable.
Personally, no I don’t avoid CFA… or usually anyone else honestly. I worked in retail for a decade before I became a teacher. I see what happens when sales go down. The top brass maintains profits for shareholders at the expense of your neighbors who are working hard to put food on the table for their kids… your students. I have had a lot of my students working at CFA. I have had impromptu parent-teacher conferences with the reciept checker at Sam’s Club. I’ve called the work number in students’ records only to be thanked for calling Walmart. I’ve had parents come into my classroom wearing their Waffle House waitress uniform. This is who gets hurt. I know its tough, but as mentioned, as soon as people started having issues with CFA, the other side just offset the argument saying they supported it. Frankly, I don’t think Dan Cathey really read the whole Bible past the second chapter of Genesis or he would be rethinking his “Biblical definition of marriage.” I have, however seen the good things CFA franchisees have done for the communities they serve. Frankly, I think that outweighs the couple million dollars Cathey has given to objectionable groups. There has to be a better solution. I honestly don’t know what it is, but hurting your neighbors can’t be it.
Thanks for commenting. This is the discussion I was hoping to have–a distinction between rejecting a corporation’s stated values, and hurting the people who work for that corporation who may or may not share the same values but need a job. Pete Buttigieg’s (a person who is a direct target of CFA’s stated policies) comment at the end was, I thought, rational–better to build a bridge and start a discussion than escalate chicken sandwich wars. (The sandwich is still gross.)
There are lots of larger questions embedded in a very simple story–the increasing political power of corporations, beyond sales and services, for example. Our choices do matter.