You know how when you learn a new word, or first meet someone, all of a sudden you start hearing that word or name everywhere you go? This is what happened to me back in November of 2008 when I was introduced for the first time to Chick-Fil-A. Let me preface this by saying that if you are from the southern or midwestern part of our fair country, you most likely just gasped with horror that I lived twenty-something years of a life devoid of this pleasure. All it takes is an utterance of the (ridiculous) restaurant name to see that wistful, hungry-eyed, salivating look come over the face of the devoted Chick-fil-A fan in your midst. And man, are they devoted. Chick-Fil-A was recently voted the third most beloved restaurant chain in the country, and a quick visit to their facebook page shows close to 5 million likes, just a few more than A Mouse Bouche has. While on their page I was tempted to click the "like" button, myself. Heck, their sandwiches are some of the best chicken sandwiches I've tasted. Anywhere. I was not immune to the Chick-fil-A magic, and fell in love the first time I took a bite. But I just couldn't do it. I couldn't click it. Why? Well, I'm glad you asked.
Back to 2008. I was on my way with the then Boyfriend to celebrate Thanksgiving at his sister's home in Virginia. We had decided to fly to D.C., where we met his other sister and her family, spent the day doing some sight-seeing with their kids, and then all piled into the car to drive the two hours (holiday traffic translation: 4 hours) to our final destination. After hours on the road following a long, wet, and freezing afternoon trekking around the Capitol, despite the fact that we knew there would be a feast waiting for us upon our arrival, we just had to stop for sustenance. Off the highway, somewhere in Virginia, I took a bite of my first Chick-fil-a sandwich. It was heavenly, though I couldn't quite explain why. The chicken was moist and perfectly crunchy, the bun pillowy and toasted with--was that a touch of butter? The pickles gave it a sweet and sour crunch and even without the added assorted sauces, it was flavorful, salty and dare I say, complex. Despite my disdain for fast food, I was an instant convert. I dreamed about that sandwich until that Christmas when, back in Tampa, I had the chance to indulge in another one, this time with waffle fries and a surprisingly delicious salad.
Between bites, the Boyfriend gave me some history on the brand. Founded by S. Truett Cathy in Georgia in 1967, the company is known not only for its delicious chicken sandwiches, but for its devotion to Christian values. The restaurant and all of its franchises are closed on Sundays. Their corporate purpose statement indicates that the company exists "That we might glorify God by being a faithful steward in all that is entrusted to our care, and that we might have a positive influence on all the people that we might come in contact with." They have an extensive scholarship program, a foundation, and even foster homes. They have basketball tournaments for kids. I could get behind all this. No one was prostelytizing while I ate my sandwich. The napkins were devoid of lines of scripture. And who doesn't want Sundays off? I returned to NYC with a heavy heart, knowing it might be a full year before I could have another taste.
Back in the city, all of a sudden Chick-fil-A was everywhere (and you thought I wouldn't bring this back around). A girl I was doing a show with happened to mention that her husband (from Texas) had founded a movement to bring Chick-fil-A to NYC, even creating a facebook page to garner support for the effort. Historically, Mr. Cathy has refused any bid to open a store in New York (too many heathens? Jews?). Later that week, a friend dropped that there is a "secret" Chick-fil-A in Manhattan, inside an NYU cafeteria, which low and behold, was located across the street from the Social Work building where I had just begun school. And then, a day later, as though God was sending me a message, I was walking down the street near my apartment, minding my own business when a woman approached me out of nowhere to ask where she could find this magical Chick-fil-A location. I kept meaning to go for lunch between classes, but something kept stopping me. Was it the calorie count? Or something more sinister?
Fast forward a bit. Chick-fil-A is appearing everywhere yet again. There's a flurry of online news articles about the the company's support of anti-gay groups, totaling $2 million in 2009 alone. I spot a flyer in the student lounge at NYU inviting me to a forum to find out "the truth" of Chick-fil-A's politics and practices. Then I learn about a 2002 lawsuit involving a Muslim franchise owner who sued when he says he was fired after he refused to join in a company prayer because of his religious beliefs (I don't claim to know the full story, and the terms of the settlement are undisclosed). Then I hear that potential franchise owners of Chick-fil-A stores have to disclose their marital status, dependents, and involvement in community organizations, including churches, and that the company prefers to hire married workers since they tend to be happier and more hard-working (in case you're not sure, married=heterosexual, though either way, the bias is pretty clear). Then I read that one of Chick-fil-A's charitable arms, Winshape, who runs a retreat center where they often host marriage conferences involving anti-gay, "pro-family" groups, has blantantly said they do not welcome homosexual couples at the retreat. And then, to top it off, this story comes out! I mean, you're going to attack KALE? in VERMONT? Good luck with that, buddy.
And so it was, that my love affair with the Chicken Classic came to an abrupt end. For a few blissfully ignorant months, I was one of the fanatic few, who jonesed for a location in NYC, spoke longingly of the sandwich I ate six months ago, and agreed to a layover in the Atlanta airport just so I could have lunch there.
Here's the thing. I have nothing against the company's Christian message. If your devotion to your spirituality means you feel it should guide every aspect of your life, then why not let it guide your work life as well? And if the principles of those beliefs are "being a positive influence" on those around you, then great! I wish more corporations took that to heart (since, as people, they must have hearts, right?). And I'm all for scholarships! And basketball tournaments! And foster homes (well, that depends...)! But I'm having a hard time reconciling a positive influence on others, with supporting groups who promote hate towards any of god's children, like the Family Research Council, who has actually been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (great organization--check them out) because of their aggressive anti-LGBT stance. Chick-fil-A is well within their legal rights to give money to whomever they choose (though not to discriminate in their employment practices, AHEM), no matter how despicable, hateful, or ignorant. And I am happy to exercise my legal right to spend my money elsewhere.
Like on this sandwich, which may just put the Chick-fil-A to shame.
From Tebaya, a local restaurant around the corner of my apartment, it is the perfect Asian take on the gloriousness of the CFA sandwich. The chicken katsu sandwich is two (TWO!) breaded fried chicken patties slathered with a special sweet miso sauce, a bit of wasabi dressing, and a layer of crunchy cole slaw on a buttery fluffy bun. It's ridiculously delicious, and a great alternative to Chick-fil-A, which frankly, even if you support their politics, you'd be hard-pressed to find in NYC (minus that secret location, though you'll have to pose as an NYU student).
You know that for me, tasty food is a priority. I will compromise on a lot of things for a good snack. But in this case, I just can't stomach it.
I'll miss you, Chick-fil-A. Change your ways and I'll be the first new 'like' you'll get on facebook.