I take my food without politics

Coming to Illinois from across the country, I have scoured the Champaign-Urbana area for unique cuisine and new eateries that are unavailable in my native Oregon. Papa Del’s, of course, is a favorite haunt of mine, and I try to make a trip out to Steak ’n Shake every month or so as well.

However, despite its absence in my hometown, I have felt no strong impulse to give the local Chick-fil-A a try.

The chicken-specializing fast-food chain hit the news recently after remarks by its COO Dan Cathy in defense of “the biblical definition of the family unit.” Chick-fil-A has earned fame for basing its business practices on biblical principles, most visibly closing Sundays, but these practices have led to some infamy as well: The company has donated millions of dollars over the years to what it calls pro-family groups — and what others call anti-gay groups.

The COO’s remarks have thrown the company’s business practices back under the limelight. The Jim Henson Company severed its ties with Chick-fil-A, pulling Kermit and Miss Piggy from kid’s meals across the nation. Several mayors, including Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, have objected to the building of any more Chick-fil-A franchises in their cities (for which, in turn, the mayors have been scorned by the left and right).

And there have been renewed calls for a general boycott.

Odds are if you have hung around the Quad long enough, dear reader, you have met someone whose whole raison d’etre entails convincing you to join their boycott of choice. You try not to make eye contact. You run. You hide. But they find you all the same, shoving a pamphlet under your nose until you are forced, guiltily, to take it and slink off the Quad.

Half the time, the reasons given for joining the boycott make me less interested in protesting, not more. I do not need the concern of animal cruelty hanging over my head to make me forsake eating a steak in favor of a few more carrots; wanting to eat healthy does that job just fine. Reducing global bovine discomfiture is then a nice bonus, rather than a gnawing guilt.

Likewise, I have no desire to transform into a seething ball of hate and bile toward Chick-fil-A; most would be turned away by my anger, and it would give the targets of said anger a martyr complex they do not need. Still, I do not want to go there. The way Chick-fil-A has politicized its food (and thereby, my purchase of its food) has pushed me away.

In some sense, one cannot avoid politics in food. I am sure that I have, at some point, purchased an onion grown on the farm of a racist, misogynist twit who believes that Muslims and anyone of Mexican descent should be deported without due process. There is nothing I can really do about that.

After all, grocers do not place stickers on each onion they sell warning potential buyers of the political inclinations of the grower. The good and bad are tossed in alike. There is no way to support any political view over another by picking a certain kind of onion — unless you pick up the organic one, but that is another issue entirely.

However, Chick-fil-A’s statements and contributions might as well have slapped that sticker onto their meals: If you purchase this lunch, part of the proceeds will go to these causes. It would be one thing if Cathy himself, using the wealth he has accumulated from successfully managing his company, were to support these causes; at least then there would be a step removed and no direct connection to what my money would support. But here, the company itself is giving the money.

Simply put, if my lunch has to be political, I at least want it to be political toward things I support.

So, Chick-Fil-A, as cute as your cows are suggesting that I “Eat Mor Chikin,” if I feel the need for a fast-food lunch, I might skip your place and pick up a smoothie instead.

Which, as a nice bonus, will probably make some animal cruelty crusader quite happy.