When I was in 7th grade, my family moved to Austin, Texas for a year. The atmosphere of Austin, one of the famously more liberal places in the southwest, still impressed me as unforgiving and uncultured, and was home to a highly unattractive regional accent.
Yet what it lacked in culture, it made up for in chain restaurants. Texas is the home of such southern-specific enterprises as Sonic, Luby’s, Mr. Pibb (Dr. Pepper’s gayer, sweeter cousin) and the notoriously, almost illegally delicious Chick-fil-A, where the chicken actually tasted like chicken, albeit in an artificially idealized state. Whatever fond remembrances I carried out of Austin revolve around deep-fried meat, eccentric sodas, and grease-spotted paper cartons. But there was something more, in my allegiance to a chain such as Chick-fil-A, than sheer hunger. There was something in the ethos of the company itself—a company large enough to constitute an equator belt of chains along the southern states, but small and specific enough not to branch out into the north. No one can deny that transnational behemoths like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Starbucks are the very seat of evil. I thought of Chick-fil-A as a purer, smaller operation—a kind of little-engine-that-could character in the grandiose fable of mass food production, chugging away quietly and unpretentiously against its bigger, more obviously corrupt counterparts. All of which assumes a kind of liberal thinking on the part of Chick-fil-A that I think they would not appreciate being associated with.
So imagine my chagrin when I find that Chick-fil-A is one of the few large corporations taking Obama’s recent, half-assed endorsement of gay marriage as an excuse to be vocal about their own homophobia. As a Southern-specific company, it’s a bit redundant, not to say implicit, but a disappointment all the same. To be fair, I’d only imagined it to be a more liberal-minded company because of the superiority of its product. So what does it mean that a high-quality piece of fried chicken could have such Old Testament malice behind it, or could even be, as many tweeters and Facebook commenters will have it, “deep-fried in hate”?
If the media ‘wildfire’ sparked by Chick-fil-A’s family values announcement reaffirms one thing, it’s the existence of the ever-widening divide between north and south, and somewhat (but to a lesser extent) between north and midwest. There are many reasons why I’m glad not to live in the south, and most of them are safety related. But today, what I’m really grateful for is the fact that my proximity to the Chick-fil-A chain would contribute to a serious weakening of my political stance on this issue. Fortunately, there is only one Chick-fil-A in the city, and getting within spitting distance of it involves disguising oneself as an NYU student and sneaking into the Weinstein foodcourt—a ruse too elaborate even for the most staunch Chick-fil-A addict to take part in, preexisting bigotry aside.
It’s all well and good to talk boycotts, but when faced with the proximate odor of heavily breaded chicken and divinely latticed waffle fries, who among us can say he would remain true to the cause? Is it a coincidence that the chain that makes the best, most convincing fried chicken, holds the most obnoxious stance on gay equality? Or at least, the most vocal one?
It’s hard to say. But I’m guessing that it is the very thing that makes their chicken delicious that also makes them fundamentalist Christians: a total disrespect of nature in favor of social constructs. After all, who was it that decided that chicken, in order to be delicious, should taste like the hyper-fried, salt-enemaed product that it has come to be in service of the fast food industry? Society. The very same society that for years ignored, denied, or punished a demand for civil rights from minority citizens.
Judgement has been passed. I have but one thing to say, and I’ll say it in rhyme:
Chick-fil-A, sashay away.