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The politics of lunch

3 min read


Chick-fil-A is no stranger to controversy, with much media attention paid to President Dan Cathy’s vocal expression of his conservative Christian views and the company’s contributions to conservative causes. The chain’s contributions to anti-gay causes have raised ire in the past, but it ratcheted way up this week with comments from Cathy.

Mostly, companies that depend on the public’s goodwill and continued patronage shy away from politics and taking a controversial public position on a hot-button social issue, for good reason. They want to appeal to as many customers as possible. While Cathy has been unusual for his relatively outspoken support of conservative positions, he took it further this month with quotes in the Baptist Press clarifying his support of “the biblical definition of the family unit,” as part of a long article on how Cathy and his father, who started Chick-fil-A, incorporate their religious beliefs into the business.

Since then, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has let the chain know it’s not welcome in his city, vowing to keep Chick-fil-A out and telling the Boston Herald, “You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.” Menino took his own share of heat for the comment, including a Los Angeles Times editorial criticizing the mayor for promising to treat Cathy and his company differently for expressing an unpopular view.

“Public officials have a responsibility to carry out their ministerial tasks fairly and evenhandedly — and to uphold the principle of free speech — whether or not they like a business executive’s social or political stances,” the editorial says.

The Times illustrated the difference between rights of a public official and rights of a private citizen when it comes to boycott by pointing out that The Jim Henson Co. has the perfect right to no longer partner with Chick-fil-A on Muppet giveaways. Further, the company promised in a Facebook post to donate funds from an earlier Chick-fil-A deal to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

“The Jim Henson Company has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over fifty years and we have notified Chick-fil-A that we do not wish to partner with them on any future endeavors,” the post says.

So, the debate rages, and the reality is that, with the possible exception of some remote Alaska town that needs to have tacos airlifted in, the majority of markets have more than enough lunch options. Consumers who think like Cathy will continue to frequent Chick-fil-A, and those who passionately support same-sex marriage will continue to eat elsewhere.

But it’s also likely that, for a significant portion of the population who contributed to the company’s $4 billion in revenue last year, politics weren’t even on the radar when they picked a place to eat. Will Cathy’s latest comments change more people’s minds? Does a company’s politics matter as much or more than its products and prices to most consumers?

Tell us your thoughts in the comments.