Bigotry, Chicken, and Capitalism: Implications of the Chick-Fil-A Controversy on the Politics of Food

Protest sign: Chick-for-Equality

Chick-fil-A’s conspicuous homophobia and anti-gay bigotry prompted protests and boycots all over the country this week by LGBT and progressive activists. 

On Wednesday the fast food chain also saw record sales as fellow bigots flocked in droves to support the chain’s anti-gay policies during ‘Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.’ By galvanizing both the progressive community and right-wing homophobes to ‘vote their dollar,’ has the controversy opened a Pandora’s box of conscious consumerism and corporate accountability? Here’s hoping!

Regular EDB readers are no strangers to the concept of supporting ethical food. ‘Vote your dollar!’ is a rallying cry for food revolutionaries everywhere: by rewarding ethical growers, shopping non-GMO, or withholding support from pollution-spewing cruelty-ridden factory farms, informed consumers can take direct action towards limiting destructive practices. Most folks who already see food as a vital health, environmental, and ethics issue understand the tremendous power an educated consumer base exerts upon a profit-driven food system.

But for most Chick-fil-A protesters on either side, this is something new! To the average American Joe or Josephine – eating a standard Western diet, with no deeper reflection than whether to add Coke or Dr. Pepper to the value meal – food has finally been cast as what it always is: a fundamentally value-driven part of human life.

Food choices are intrinsically inseparable from politics; from values; from ethics. What we eat always reflects what we value, both as individuals and as members of a specific human society. Complex webs of cultural and political factors shape what foods we have the ability – and the desire – to choose.

The Chick-fil-A debacle, on its surface, represents a minority group’s effort to hold a corporation accountable for obnoxious behavior — followed by the backlash efforts of homophobes to reward it. In this age of US corporate oligarchy, when corporations are ‘people’ allowed to wield enormous power without legal censure for harm done, the LGBT effort towards corporate accountability through consumer action deserves serious respect and support.

But even beyond the obvious human rights issues underlying the Chick-fil-A conflict, there’s something else remarkable going on here that has zero to do with chicken, religion, or sex.

All across the US, people are realizing the power of conscious consumerism.

The documentary Ethos offers an excellent summary of why that’s a big deal:

The way we use money in our society has more influence than anything else. And the way we choose to spend our money can change everything…

No company will continue a practice or product that you the consumer will not buy. It’s vitally important that you understand this, because this gives you ultimate power to change the world you live in…

By choosing to spend your money wisely, you can promote those companies that do business in a socially responsible way. Without saying a word, you will send a message that they simply cannot ignore.

Many Americans are newly exploring the revolutionary idea that maybe – just maybe – the intersection of food choices and personal values can transcend convenience. That maybe what you buy, what you eat, and what you support have implications well beyond anything those anemic adjectives ‘fast and cheap’ can possibly justify.

Like concepts of human rights and equality, if that seed takes root in the public mind its power will be unstoppable.

Image credit: photo courtesy of Judd Mann, Chick-fil-A protestor and human rights advocate.

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5 thoughts on “Bigotry, Chicken, and Capitalism: Implications of the Chick-Fil-A Controversy on the Politics of Food”

  1. great article! i’ve been having similar thoughts with regards to this controversy. you are right to emphasize the exciting and truly great potential for positive change that these events have (if accidentally) made very clear. (i also think it no coincidence that those who profit from animal cruelty are anti- human rights as well– it’s a rather small logical leap from one to the other after all.) it’s easy to feel helpless against such a huge, complex, and entrenched system, but the truth, as this article points out, is that we all have enormous power as consumers. we all have to make purchases, and if we all do so according to our ethics we will be agents of change. money makes the world go round; it’s an unfortunate fact but it can be used to further positive goals. corporations cannot profit if i don’t buy their products. simple, but powerful. viva la revolucion!

  2. Well done!

    I’m an ardent supporter of conscious consumerism and proudly vote with my dollars on a daily basis (to the point where I have to carry a list of what I’m boycotting in my wallet lest I err in a hurry in the grocery store). But I’m also a world-class skeptic and I am highly doubtful of the success any ethically-based minority boycott can have against any unethical corporation as large as Chick-fil-a. Historically, value-based boycotts have proven successful only when embraced by an entire community and only when a community is capable of demonstrating total compliance to the limits of the boycott. It helps when that community is the majority and the boycott carries a significant economic punch…

    I’m curious as to how Chick-fil-a management would respond when given the opportunity to give its verbal bigotry a financial price tag – when forced to make choices at the register between selling a $5 chicken sandwich and embracing a policy of corporate bigotry. How many LGBT activists wearing rainbow tye-dye “I’M GAY!” t-shirts would be able to step up to a Chick-fil-a counter and order a meal before a store manager asked them to leave? Before the issue became “conscious food service” instead of “conscious food buyers/eaters?”

    Understandably, it’s a leap to move from conscious consumerism to kiss-ins and from kiss-ins to active resistance, and perhaps it’s premature to even discuss…..but.

    1. Thanks, CM! Your remarks bring to mind what I think is brilliant quote from Vandana Shiva’s interview on Moyers & Company:

      “You do not measure the fruit of your action; you have to measure your obligation for action. You have to find out what is the right thing to do – that is your duty. Whether you win or lose is not the issue.”

      I think that Shiva’s point applies no less to LGBT equality issues than to GMO problems… As much power as corporations have amassed, the level of change needed is daunting — but sometimes, like now, there are encouraging signs of potential change!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)

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