Once More Unto the Breach

I feel like it’s time to throw my 2 cents into this current pot of societal contention.

Before I get to my primary point, I need to address a few issues:

1. I’ve known about CFA’s bigoted stance for quite some time, and so did most people with whom I’m acquainted.

2. Dan Cathy’s beliefs did not surprise me in the least; however, his willingness to create negative publicity for his chain of restaurants during his interview with the Biblical Recorder did catch me off guard. Cathy possesses the courage of his convictions, which is, admittedly, rare. His convictions may be bigoted and Medieval, but that’s beside the point.

3. I don’t want Dan Cathy silenced. Despite what many on the right side of the political spectrum say, this is not an issue of free speech. As a matter of fact, the contrary is true. I’m thankful Dan Cathy has the same rights to free speech as me because without those rights and his exercise of them, lots of people wouldn’t know he’s a bigot and that his company supports bigotry.

4. If Dan Cathy had simply said a bunch of bigoted stuff, I’d probably still eat at Chick-Fil-A. Each CFA is a franchise, which means that a boycott of a CFA actually hurts local businesspeople. Also, I know that there are probably plenty of LGBT employees at CFA. Those employees are, I imagine, quite thankful to have a job in a recessive economy. A boycott would hurt them as well, and they had nothing to do with Cathy running his mouth.

However, I do choose to boycott CFA. Why? Simple. Dan Cathy has done more than just talk about his ideology. He has donated tens of millions of dollars to organizations that actively block legislation granting equal rights to minorities and that support legislation to prevent the continued disenfranchisement of minorities. So in essence, my purchase of a sandwich, in a small way, goes towards supporting and passing government policy with which I firmly oppose. So I don’t eat there.

But none of that is the crux of this post. Authors possessing far stronger arguments with more elegant prose have already addressed those issues. But what I haven’t seen addressed is the food. The fact that food resides at the center of this controversy really bothers me.

Food should be about bringing people together. Food is more than just fuel for a biomechanical machine. Food is about communion with our friends and family. It’s about understanding nature, and understanding that we occupy a space within nature. No matter your race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, you eat food. And so do I. It’s the one thing that truly crosses all boundaries and connects us as human beings.

United States Presidents have understood the importance of breaking bread with foreign dignitaries and world leaders. Dining with someone encourages civility and diplomacy. Theodore Roosevelt knew that food was a bridge between and above ideological conflicts, which is why he invited Booker T. Washington to dinner in 1901 in an attempt to ease racial tension. That dinner outraged many people, but Roosevelt and Washington both knew that having a meal together was about something far greater than sustenance.

William Randolph Hearst also understood the importance of food and dining. He may be responsible for the sensational and slanted news we must contend with today, but he routinely invited individuals from all walks of life to dine at his exclusive dinner parties at Hearst mansion, and in doing so, he created a diverse network of friends. He tended to use these friends as tools to gain power, but that’s beside the point.

Many universities have Chick-Fil-As onsite. At UTSA, we have one in our food court, as do many other universities. Sure, students grab sandwiches on the go, but oftentimes you see them talking, laughing, enjoying one another’s company over CFA sandwiches, salads, and shakes. There’s a CFA right across the street from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. It’s packed with doctors, nurses, patients, med students. People from all walks of life dining together. That’s a good thing.

Chick-Fil-A might not be gourmet, but in the pantheon of fast food restaurants, Chick-Fil-A throws the lightning bolts. Their chicken passes for kinda sorta healthy, the restaurants are usually clean, and they’re staffed by half-way competent employees. And who doesn’t love CFA’s adorable holstein mascots? Those things are just delightful.

But after Cathy and his infamous interview, we’ve begun to associate Chick-Fil-As with discord. The restaurant is becoming a symbol of division and politics, and their food and restaurants are no longer bringing people together, but rather pushing us apart. Carrying a bag of sandwiches is now a political statement.

Look, the debate over equal rights is winding down. Most of us understand that, and I’m hopeful that these dust-ups are the death knell of bigotry. Study after study shows that young people are far more accepting than boomers, so at the absolute worst, we simply have to wait for the old bigots to die and things will change on their own. Obviously I want change faster than that. Some of these boomers seem quite intent on hanging around and making things miserable for as longs as they can, but eventually, this fight over equal rights will be over and done. People of the future will look back on this time in our history with shame because our society is letting an iron age collection of books unconstitutionally oppress a group of minorities.

But back in the present, the fight for equal rights continues, and unfortunately, Chick-Fil-A food will now carry a connotation of bigotry with some folks and a connotation of WASPy values with others. Having a Chick-Fil-A sandwich will have a deeper meaning that will inspire some people and enrage others. That’s not what food should be about. It’s the exact opposite of what food should be about.

Plus, I think it’s about time we all come back together, regardless of politics, gender, sexual orientation, or religion and begin once again to hate on McDonald’s and Taco Bell. They’re the real winners in all of this. And if McDonald’s and Taco Bell are winning, that means hypertension and explosive diarrhea are as well. And none of us want that.

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