Playing With Politics

A Blog on Law, Politics, Planning, Development, and Other Vices

Rant: Don’t Judge the Chick-Fil-A Eaters

Posted by Roobs on August 17, 2012

Chick Fil A.  The fast food chain’s owner making his position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage public isn’t exactly top news anymore.  But I find myself still thinking about it.  Not necessarily the position of this corporate owner, but the wide spreading view towards the chain by pro-LGBT groups and individuals.  I find myself wondering if this is at all the correct position to take.  Boycotting the restaurant or not is not necessarily the issue.  How we treat those who do not share our actions, is.

After graduating from UC Berkeley, I worked for a law firm in the Bay Area.  As a paralegal, my work was primarily research, writing, and the occasional jaunt to a county courthouse.  One case in particular I still remember.  A major construction defect case lasted for years that ultimately ended with my firm so successfully pursuing the construction company that they went bankrupt.  In fact, we bankrupted the company twice.  I have no remourse for pursuing the owner of this company with the zeal that we did.  He was a shady company owner who cut many corners and  deserved to lose his company.  But in my young zeal to help out, I didn’t really notice – until much later – that a company is not simply a single man at the top.  As a result of our work and the owner declaring bankruptcy, hundreds of construction workers lost their jobs.  That has always been regrettable, but I still believe that this company not operating was the best outcome.  As we look at the issue with Chick-Fil-A and its very religious owner, I think it’s always important to recognize that the owner is not the entire company and it’s difficult to suggest that we have the right to judge those who don’t share, not simply our principals, but our actions.

Trickle Down Boycott

A lot of people are out in force, with protests, kiss-ins, and call for boycotts since Chick-Fil-A owner, Dan Cathy’s public acknowledgment that he disapproves of homosexuality.  Like most corporate boycotts it’s seems nowadays, the focus of the vitriol is at the very top, the corporate owner, Dan Cathy.  The logic goes: If we stop eating at Chick-Fil-A, we hurt corporate earnings and, thus, hurt Cathy.  If nothing else, we provide him less money to give to anti-LGBT groups and campaigns.  But there are some problems with this view that become more visible if you’ve ever successfully brought down a man at the top of a company.

If you eat at Chick-Fil-A, are you supporting the corporate owner – a man who admits his disapproval of homosexuality?  Of course you are.  He owns the company and the overall success of the company is a success for him.  But are you also hurting those on the ground?  Yes you are.  Does the 18 year old fry cook at your local Chick-Fil-A stand with Dan Cathy?  Probably not.  But they suffer from your boycott, much more so than the corporate head.  Like any business, low earning locations are slated for closure and all the jobs are lost.  Cathy is likely fine as a single store closes.  But a group of low level workers have lost their jobs all in the name of your principals.

But is this an acceptable price?  “Boycott Chick-Fil-A because you support gay rights and they (meaning Cathy) don’t.  And if some are hurt in the process, so be it.”  This logic assumes that the loss of jobs is a price to pay for the greater good – a world without Dan Cathy sending his money to anti-LGBT groups.  This all may be true.  But those who do move forward must ask themselves how far they carry their own principle.  Do you stop at Chick-Fil-A?  If not, then how can you ask others to do join you now?

Principal vs. Principal

Do you boycott Chick-Fil-A because Dan Cathy supports anti-LGBT groups?  Or because he publically admitted he disapproves of gays and gay marriage?  Maybe both?  Ok.  Do you boycott Wal-Mart for questionable employee practices?  How many of you own Nike products or really any other major clothing brand, for that matter.  What about avocados?  Yes, avocados. Do you purposely avoid eating avocados because of the low wage paid to immigrant, often undocumented workers who are out in the heat picking them?

By now, my point should be coming clear.  The corporate boycott is often one of principal, asking others to share your outrage for something you feel the corporation is doing wrong.  But how can we boycott one company while implicitly supporting another?  The short answer is we can’t, no matter how you reason it.  But like many philosophers have said, we focus our attention on what is closer to home.

The Chick-Fil-A example is close to home.  Many of us know someone who is gay and when we hear someone talking poorly about them, we rush to their defense.  The same with Wal-Mart: we read stories about workers being treated poorly, perhaps in the neighboring town or state.  But when it comes to poorly treated labor in an Asian country who made our favorite pair of running shoes, or immigrants in the far off farmland picking our crops, we don’t normally see it.  It’s farther from our everyday lives and thus, farther from our attention.  While we may be able to say we disagree with these companies practices on principal, we are less likely to do something about it.  We also don’t judge our peers for not sharing the same view the way we would with other close-to-home issues.  And this is, sadly, most unfair.

When you ask someone to join you in a principled corporate boycott, what stance do you or any of us really have to make that request?  It’s hard to say they we can solve all the problems of the world.  We can only deal with one problem at a time and maybe it is best to focus on the ones we think we can make a difference with right now.  Perhaps focusing on Chick-Fil-A will cause Dan Cathy to stop supporting anti-LGBT groups.  Maybe it won’t.  But using your choice to not eat at Chick-Fil-A as a way to measure your own pro-LGBT-ness and especially someone else’s is wrongheaded, arrogant, and elitist

The Subtle Elitism of Corporate Boycotts

Corporate boycotts are not new.  For me personally, I can remember for almost as long as I can really remember anything, that people have been upset and boycotting Wal-Mart.  The company is huge, allegedly treats its workers poorly, and due to its penchant for selling goods at cheap prices, it can run its mom and pop competitors to the ground.  So boycotting the giant chain of stores was common topic of discussion.  But there is something about these type of corporate boycotts that has always bothered me.  And only in the past few years have I noticed what I believe is the subtle elitism of the corporate boycott.

The Wal-Mart example is a good one, probably coupled with the brief call for a boycott of Target.  Now, to begin and address the more left leaning of my readers, I will state that I have no love for Wal-Mart and I don’t shop there.  However, I don’t shop there largely because I think they sell poor quality merchandise.  But the idea that other people shouldn’t shop there, and I should recruit others to join me, and finally judge those who still do, is rather arrogant and elitist, especially now.

Corporate boycotts are a boycott of consumer consumption, and specifically consumption of goods from particular place, in this case, Wal-Mart.  Wal-Mart is able to sell goods at very cheap prices to the average consumer.  Back in the 1990’s when the economy was doing very well, the boycott seemed like it could work in theory.  A lot of families had the income to be able to say that they could spend the extra money at another store to buy the same or complimentary product.  However, with the economy the way it is today, that is less the case.  Families everywhere are watching their income and where they spend it.  As a recent graduate of grad school who has yet to land a full time job, I can attest that this is something you definitely are cognisant about.  To ask families to stop their consumption of cheaper goods at one store and have them buy those same or complimentary goods for a higher price at another implies a presumption, perhaps arrogant presumption, of disposable income.  Those who are able to choose where they buy goods have higher incomes than those who lack the same consumer choice; a lack of choice by no fault of their own, but simply a bad economy.  And when the financially struggling family is unable to join in on the principled boycott, they are sometimes judged by those who feel they are supporting corporate greed, if not “evil”.

While everyone is free to choose where they do or do not buy their goods, I do not believe they are free to tell others nor are they free to judge others for not following their consumer habits.  Chick-Fil-A provides cheap meals to people.  And while there is no shortage of fast and cheap food in this country, protestors are nonetheless asking others to shift their consumer habits, punishable by public judgment, because they somehow know better.


All this being said, the issue again returns to Chick-Fil-A.  Ultimately, Chick-Fil-A is a fast food chain that sells cheap food that is relatively healthier than its competitors.  The corporate owner of this franchise is a man who has made his position on LGBT rights clear.  He is a man that I and many others in the LGBT community hold no love to, and we have that right.  I won’t eat at Chick-Fil-A.  I won’t eat there in part because of Dan Cathy, but also because I can easily eat at other locations and I just generally try to avoid fast food for health reasons.  But for me or anyone else to extend judgment of Dan Cathy to those who would spend their afternoon eating their daily caloric intake on small sandwiches and waffle fries?  To me, that takes this too far.  The people who work at my local Chick-Fil-A and those who have eaten there since opening are likely not on the Dan Cathy anti-LGBT bandwagon.  They may just want waffle fries.

We can admit that through the mere structure off a corporation that Dan Cathy benefits from sales at all Chick-Fil-A locations.  And if you want to voluntarily chose to not eat at Chick-Fil-A, then more power to you.  But do not scorn nor judge those who may decide they want a chicken sandwich for lunch.  Do not let yourself lose relationships over something as frivolous as waffle fries.  People say the boycott is bigger than just the LGBT iissue.  For those, I can only close by saying if you want to focus on hurting a company’s ability to fund anti-LGBT groups, focus on the real problem, like campaign finance laws.





One Response to “Rant: Don’t Judge the Chick-Fil-A Eaters”

  1. Eric Panzer said

    Corporations and other large organizational entities (e.g., transit agencies, non-profits, and charities) are, by their very nature, composed of large numbers of people. Most of these individuals are not involved with the sorts of decisions or actions that prompt boycotts. Nevertheless, when one of these large entities takes actions that are unforgivably contrary to ones principles, the welfare of those who make up that entity is not an argument that one should support it. Saying one should ignore one’s principles to support Chick-Fil-A workers leads to a slippery slope requiring you to patronize any number of businesses irrespective of whether their activities are odious or even something you regard as a necessity. By this argument, we shouldn’t try to limit our electronics purchases as part of a sustainability effort because that means fewer jobs for Chinese workers. Likewise, we shouldn’t try to drive less because this means fewer jobs for oil and gas workers. With this thinking, the Montgomery Bus Boycott precipitated by Rosa Parks’s arrest should not have taken place because it harmed otherwise innocent bus drivers.

    “Do you purposely avoid eating avocados because of the low wage paid to immigrant, often undocumented workers who are out in the heat picking them?”

    I would say you should avoid eating avocados from companies which are known to employ particularly poor labor practices. This was exactly the sort of action that took place during the activism of Cesar Chavez: the public was encouraged to boycott grapes to show solidarity with agricultural workers and push for reforms.

    “But how can we boycott one company while implicitly supporting another?”

    It is true that if people were truly following their principles, there would be an enormous number of companies worthy of boycott: oil and gas companies, diamond companies, clothing and electronics manufacturers, the list goes on. But saying that Chick-Fil-A *shouldn’t* be boycotted because we are failing to boycott other companies is a fallacy. It is classic “two wrongs make a right” thinking. Another way to put this notion is: Since we aren’t doing the right thing in other areas, why bother trying to do the right thing here? Nevertheless, I do think there is a valid criticism at the heart of this, which is that people tend to only boycott things that are convenient to boycott. It’s easy to boycott Chick-Fil-A when one lives in a place where the company has no locations and when are lots of options for fried chicken out there. I do agree that we should point out to people that if they feel that Chick-Fil-A’s actions merit a boycott based on LGBT rights concerns, then cell phone manufacturers are likewise worthy of a boycott based on coltan-related human rights concerns. We should be channeling this consumer activism more broadly rather than telling people to be consistent by ignoring all abuses equally.

    In regard to Wal-Mart, there are many people who, as you correctly point out, shop at Wal-Mart by necessity since there is simply no where else they could reasonably afford. I agree that such people should not be the objects of judgement or ridicule–though we should inform of the impact of their shopping choices, nonetheless. Even so, there are plenty of WalMart shoppers who are of greater means or who could otherwise cut back on their consumption and thus afford to shop elsewhere. I don’t think these folks should be ridiculed either, since this would likely only serve to alienate them, but I do think that explaining to them why they should shop elsewhere is perfectly reasonable. Either way, though, none of these “necessity” arguments apply to Chick-Fil-A–unless we are talking about a community where Chick-Fil-A is the only affordable source of sustenance.

    “But do not scorn nor judge those who may decide they want a chicken sandwich for lunch. Do not let yourself lose relationships over something as frivolous as waffle fries.”

    Again, I think there is some truth in this: we should use these disagreements as an opportunity to have a discussion. When we end a friendship or cut off communication, we are effectively ending opportunties for dialog, growth, and bringing people over to our side. On another level, however, I think there is plenty of room for ridicule and I find it galling that you would suggest we should never consider some degree of scorn. If Chick-Fil-A were funding groups that were working to reinstate bans on inter-racial marriages, attempting to ban marriage between people of different religions, or putting out propaganda on how [insert group of people] is inferior/”unnatural”, then I doubt you would be taking the position that we should just ignore Chick-Fil-A’s actions and withhold any judgement on those who patronized the business.

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