Let's Talk About Why We Eat—and Don't Eat—at Chick-Fil-A

Recently, Rider University in New Jersey removed chicken sandwich chain Chick-fil-A from a survey listing potential dining options "based on the company's record widely perceived to be in opposition to the LGBTQ community." According to The Associated Press, the school wanted to honor its own values of inclusion, which Chick-fil-A does not appear to share.

The Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A responded thusly:

[T]his news story represents a good opportunity to clarify misperceptions about our brand. Chick-fil-A is a restaurant company focused on food, service and hospitality, and our restaurants and licensed locations on college campuses welcome everyone. We have no policy of discrimination against any group, and we do not have a political or social agenda.

Most people trace Chick-fil-A's anti-gay stance to a 2012 interview with Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, in which he stated: "We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that." The company also has previously donated to conservative groups like the Marriage And Family Foundation and the Family Research Council.

So on one hand: Delicious chicken sandwich. On the other, a company that may not align with your values as a consumer. The Takeout's Kevin Pang and Gwen Ihnat discuss.

Gwen Ihnat: I know that people really love Chick-fil-A. I've read the stats; I've seen the videotaped millennials; I've witnessed the long lines outside the CFA here in Chicago. It's probably a great sandwich. And I love pickles. And yet, I will never eat one, because I believe that Chick-fil-A's apparent LGBTQ beliefs completely suck.

Kevin Pang: I have friends who similarly won't eat Chick-fil-A for those reasons—and hey, it's your hard-earned money, you spend it however you like. I, on the other hand, don't mind being a customer, even if I don't agree with their LGBTQ stance. Setting aside its politics: I find their chicken sandwiches and nuggets much better than most fast foods. I've got a toddler; there's a Chick-fil-A nearby; and sometimes dinner is a matter of convenience. The question, I suppose, is whether something that brings me gratification (the deliciousness of a food) can co-exist with my moral code. What do you think about others who eat at Chick-fil-A?

GI: Hey, it's still a free country (at the moment). I don't begrudge them—or you—their favorite sandwich. And look, I'm no hero. I write about rebellious cows for a living. I should be a vegetarian, probably, and avoid Amazon due to Jeff Bezos' heinous worker policies, and log off Facebook, and spend my downtime (what downtime?) volunteering. I fail at a lot of these efforts.

But food is one of those things I am in no shortage of (I should be more in shortage of it, if you know what I mean). So it is super-easy for me to avoid giving my hard-earned rebel-cow-writing cash to Chick-fil-A for the rest of my life. Chick-fil-A, with its easy discriminatory dismissal of an entire population, crossed a line with me. I honestly don't care how good its chicken is.

Um, how good is it?

KP: I think it's quite good. We're on record saying Chick-fil-A sauce is our favorite fast food dipping sauce. And their fried chicken fillets are well-seasoned, the fry job is crisp and golden, and the interior meat stays juicy.

Look, I've traveled the country eating at places whose politics I don't agree with. I was in South Carolina and sat down at Maurice's, whose founder—Maurice Bessinger—said some awfully heinous things. He's a segregationist, flew the Confederate flag, but he also ran a very successful barbecue business and as a food writer I felt an obligation to try it (he's regarded as one of the pioneers of the yellow mustard-style of Carolina barbecue). I sat down with one of Bessinger's children, and we had a lovely conversation about BBQ. Absolutely, I struggled to square the circle about visiting, but overall it was a net positive because the food was good and the conversation was cordial. Do I espouse their views? Absolutely not. Am I glad I visited? Yes. I know it's a tricky line to toe.

Still, I recognize the distinction: There's the journalistic obligation as a food writer, and there's the restaurants I visit for pleasure. I suppose one way I've reconciled with that while some of my money goes towards Chick-fil-A's corporate board, I'm also paying for the local teenager working behind the counter and the owner-operator who's probably a neighbor of mine. I know that's not a satisfying response, but my food worldview is through the prism of its deliciousness. And I like what I like.

So you've got 12-year-old twins. I see teens in that restaurant all the time—how would you react if your son and daughter wanted to eat at Chick-fil-A with their friends?

GI: If a bunch of my kids' friends wanted to go to Chick-fil-A, I would take the opportunity to offer a fun little lesson on conscious consumerism. Actually, all the kids I know are so pro-Gay Pride (I am very hopeful about the next generation), once I laid out my reasons for not partaking of Chick-fil-A, I doubt they would want to eat there. Plus, they're kids, not really known for their connoisseur-ship when it comes to chicken nuggets and fries, even waffle fries. Swaying them to a visit to a different fast-food outlet would not be a big deal.

And would that fast food outlet be perfect? Hardly. Like I said, I'm not a purist, but having read what I've read about Chick-fil-A's conservative policies, I just can't picture myself walking in there and purchasing a sandwich. I know that some of their branches do good things, and I like that they just gave this WWII vet a lifetime pass. I still don't want to cross that particular threshold.

KP: It's a complicated topic, to be sure. For me it's one-part convenience, one-part deliciousness. I probably shouldn't eat that entire bag of Takis in one sitting, but no thanks to evolution and my monkey brain, the parts controlling pleasure are more powerful than the parts controlling rational thought.

The other thing is I've probably enjoyed beer from companies who've donated to causes or politicians whose views I don't believe in. I've probably eaten at restaurants whose owners treat their workers like crap. Do I have a moral obligation to screen companies and patronize only the businesses with views I espouse? You were telling me how you recently bought some eggnog from a local dairy company, whose owner is a well-known politician here in Illinois and has expressed views fairly in line with Chick-fil-A's LGBTQ stance.

GI: True, I really shouldn't have purchased that company's eggnog. Dean's was right there! That said, I don't think I give smaller businesses a pass. I may be even more in tuned to their owners and their myriad beliefs, thanks to my neighborhood Facebook page that functions as an online Gladys Kravitz. The Holiday Club in Chicago, for example, came under fire this summer after the owner defended Trump's immigration policies. I wouldn't go there, either.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: Every purchase is a choice. And it has a positive or negative effect on another business. Me picking up Oberweiss at my local supermarket just because it looked pretty in its holiday bottle is an example of me being super-thoughtless, and likely in a hurry. We're all in a hurry. We're all rushing through the grocery, or the drive-thru. And we should all take a moment or two to think about what we're really purchasing.

KP: I want to make clear—you have every right to not patronize Chick-fil-A. I originally thought about framing this discussion as a Point-Counterpoint, but thought it was the wrong format because it's not a binary choice. Your views are absolutely valid. I believe mine, too, are valid—I like a good chicken sandwich, I've got a toddler and there's a convenient drive-through near my house, and I know part of my $8 meal bill is paying the salary of someone in my neighborhood. It's not a perfect rationale, but buying their sandwich once every two months also doesn't keep me up at night.