I’m a Christian. But I wouldn’t eat at Chick-fil-A even if the company’s CEO were St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Theresa or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And it’s not really because I disagree with the views of the company’s actual CEO about gay marriage. It’s because I think that Chick-fil-A’s whole business model is itself basically un-Christian, despoiling God’s creation in all too many ways.
All that Constitution stuff
But first, let me go on the record that I support the U.S. Constitution. As to freedom of speech, I believe everyone involved in the situation has a right to do what he or she pleases. CEO Dan Cathy has the right to broadcast his religious conviction that gay marriage is wrong , as he did in a radio interview in July:
We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.
Gay rights supporters have a right to boycott Cathy’s stores. And religious conservatives have a right to break the boycott with their “buy-cott” and open their wallets and their mouths to Chick-fil-A’s putative food.
Then, I also support the separation of church and state. I don’t believe that the Bible or any group’s interpretation of it, any more than Sharia Law or the Code of Hammurabi, should determine the laws of a modern, secular democracy as the United States still claims to be.
Finally, as a Christian, I don’t think that a religion of love should be used to deny people rights or whip up angry senior citizens and other mob-like factions into a gay-bashing frenzy.
My point now is about fast food. Maybe Chick-fil-A is no worse in its effects on the Earth and cardiac health than McDonald’s or Burger King. But since Cathy wears his faith on his sleeve, he’s set a higher standard for Chick-fil-A than its purely secular competitors who make no claim to be particularly godly.
Unfortunately, when you look closely, Cathy’s outfit doesn’t seem to do any better by dedicating itself to the Lord of Hosts than it would do by pimping a cartoon clown. And his supporters in this farcical fracas look less like faithful disciples than like lost sheep.
Copious consumption in the name of the Lord
Really, Jesus, is this how far we’ve sunk? That Christians equate eating a sloppy chicken sandwich with greasy fries followed by a sickeningly sweet dessert, each wrapped in disposable cardboard, paper and plastic immediately destined for the landfill and washing it all down with a soda made mostly from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) with doing God’s work? That they want to do so as an act of purported “family values,” essentially schooling their kids in waste, ill-health, and excess? These are “family values?”
We’ve clearly become a junk-food-for-Jesus nation. Or is that simply our new church?
I went to the Chick-fil-A website to check out the nutritional values in their food offerings. As expected it was the typical high calorie, low-quality ingredients of other fast food chains, including HFCS in almost everything, white bread buns out the wazoo, meat from heavily corn- and grain-fed chickens, and your typical array of sugary drinks and desserts. Then it’s steeped in the mysterious set of “other natural ingredients,” industry code for chemical derivatives designed to trick the olfactory system into thinking it tastes really, really good — “better than homemade!”
The chicken sandwiches, salads, and most everything else are made with plenty of harmful preservatives, like Tertiary Butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, the risks of which are huge, such as estrogen problems, pre-cancerous signifiers, and exacerbating ADHD, among other serious health concerns.
And why should Chick-fil-A (or any fast food joint) need TBHQ? Because they don’t really make anything on site, another of the problems with worshipping at the altar of fast food. By definition, it’s the polar opposite of eating local.
The Chick-fil-A website is careful to use the word “prepare” to describe what is happening on-site. What the company doesn’t emphasize is that its “fresh” produce, chicken, and seasoned coatings are processed in central plants to be shipped long distances in plastic sacks and bags to thousands of locations across the U.S. and “assembled” on site using the Speedee method. In order for ingredients to come this way they’re processed all to hell and loaded down with sketchy preservatives and wrapped in generous packaging.
The shipping alone to get a sandwich from the processing center to your closest Chick-fil-A is nothing short of sinful in a nation facing an imminent energy crisis.
Of course, that’s nothing you wouldn’t find at Wendy’s or Taco Bell. But those places don’t claim to be stuffing your tummy in the name of a higher power.
I don’t need to eat no stinkin’ local
Meanwhile, you can be assured that Chick-fil-A’s food ingredients are not sourced or purchased in your community. In fact, each visit by diners offers a slap in the face to struggling, local farmers as tithes are conferred to Big Ag instead.
Chances are, the foods are not packaged and shipped anywhere near your community either. Essentially, your town is nothing more than a footprint for a location and the provider of a few, mostly low-level unskilled jobs. It’s vertical integration with a drive-through.
Just the presence of the Chick-fil-A in a strip-mall near you is part of the larger corporate onslaught that has shuttered truly local businesses across the country for decades, killing local jobs and the autonomy, diversity, and uniqueness they represent.
Further, it should be underscored that there’s nothing local or mom-and-pop about the place because the company’s franchise model is so much more restrictive than even its fast food competitors’. So, while some supporters have said they don’t want to punish local franchises with a boycott really directed at CEO Dan Cathy, such compassion is sadly misplaced because local franchisees are little more than fast-food sharecroppers.
When consumers do spend money at Chick-fil-A (or any other fast food joint) they are themselves making a big wasteland of our world, while making a statement through behavior and dollars about what they value — and don’t value.
For example, Chick-fil-A boasts a recycling program that has enough caveats to make you wonder if they should’ve bothered at all. They “recycle” styrofoam in locations “where available” but they don’t give any numbers on what percentage of locations actually do this putative recycling (having in-store sorting bins is NOT the same as actually recycling the stuff).
Chick-fil-A does practice water use reduction in some stores and are planning it for more. But when your larger model strains water sources so much — from paper and packaging production to in-store uses to all the post-consumer waste — what’s the dif? Being “better than nothing,” in the case of corporate-scale production is just not good enough anymore.
Really, there’s a difference between doing the least thing possible to reduce impact and what is implied in the much more comprehensive concept of “environmental stewardship.”
A very big difference.
The company website also shares “plans” to implement more environmental “solutions” such as reduced electricity usage, lower-energy use in routine training, and greener materials in some buildings, all set for some indeterminate future — during which the business presumably continues to grow more stores, none of which are slated to leave the centralized production model, give up massive shipping, or cut the huge waste stream in any meaningful sense.
And with their one LEED platinum store, it’s corporate greenwashing at its best, making consumers feel that it’s okay to get an ordinary meal served with all disposable wrappers, cutlery, straws, and cups because some effort somewhere is less bad. “Look at me, I go to the better fast food joint. Don’t I feel all Christian and virtuous and stuff. A-men!”
Yes, I am glad for the small efforts that they’ve made. But the model is itself flawed, and that’s the problem.
What oil would Jesus hydrogenate?
In my view, any Christian who supports this kind of wastefulness is no steward of divine creation. And though a Christian mission is purportedly at the center of the Chick-fil-A corporate philosophy, the centralized sourcing and processing, the industrial scale of production, the lack of any interest in going local, and the overall sinful wastefulness give the lie to any godliness that Dan Cathy might claim to be bringing to business.
What I see in Chick-fil-A, its CEO Dan Cathy, and those who buy the product is just a good old fashioned worship of mammon — polluting God’s green Earth, adulterating God’s pure food and leading God’s children into temptation just to make a buck. Dancing around the golden calf — er, rooster.
And I fail to see how gorging on the vile faux food peddled by Mr. Cathy, as destructive of the Earth as it is dangerous to human health, can do anything but alienate Christians from the Christ they purport to serve. And more so when eating that food is done as an “in-your-face” to those who have themselves refused the model.
In Jesus’ name? For the Bible? In no universe is that Christian behavior, even if you agree with Cathy’s views.
Like the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus fasted to get closer to his Father and to the truth of faith, hope and charity that all religions share.
I humbly submit to my fellow Christians that, when confronted with the conflicting examples of CEO Dan Cathy peddling poisonous notional food “stuffs” and Our Lord Jesus Christ who turned the moneylenders out of the temple, that we choose the latter.
Might I also make a suggestion to bring down the temperature of this heated debate, with the hope that American Christians can work together to do something other than encourage more disgusted observers to become atheists?
Please stop making Christ or the Bible the rationale for doing things that couldn’t be more unrelated to Biblical living. If you want to get in a froth about gay marriage and then use it as an excuse to chow down on cretinous chicken, look in the mirror and give credit where credit is due.
–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice
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