Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Ones Who Walk Away From Chick-Fil-A

How can I tell you about Chick-Fil-A? How to describe its chicken sandwiches, long considered the most excellent of all the fast-food chains; its waffle fries, its delicious lemonade. How it is a great (if a bit creepy) place to work, at least compared with other fast-food giants; how it attempts to do some good along the way...

But what about this: that charitable spirit has led Chick-Fil-A to give money to several unsavory characters, some of which are engaged in so-called "reparative therapy" for gay and lesbian folks - a practice which the British Medical Association has stated is harmful and which was described as psychological torture? If supporting the great system Chick-Fil-A built meant supporting a few torturers, could we still enjoy it?

If this all sounds familiar, it's because Ursula K. LeGuin kinda covered it already. In "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas", LeGuin describes a utopian society where everyone is happy and fulfilled - it tends more toward the John Lennon vision of utopia than the Thomas More one, but that's not an important detail. The point is that the happiness and idyll of this society are dependent upon the torture of a small child in some basement somewhere in the city. Everyone in the city is told about it, knows about it, but most accept it. Some, however, just walk away from the city, unable to deal with the fact that so much pleasure is dependent upon one person's pain.

The Chick-Fil-A saga seems similar to me. Here we have an organization that is widely -and justifiably - praised for being a positive model of a fast-food chain. They make great food, treat their employees well, and encourage giving back to the community. But the same values that lead them to set up this positive model are the very same ones that lead them to support torturers like Exodus International. So do we accept that the price of our model franchise is some suffering from some gay folks somewhere? Or do we, like the ones who walk away from Omelas, abandon Chick-Fil-A as irredeemably tainted?
I don't have the answers here. Presumably that was the point of the story - to ask readers to consider the point at which negative externalities outweigh the positives. And when we consider boycotting Chick-Fil-A, we have to ask ourselves if it's worth giving up all the good that they do because of the bad things they do.

I haven't eaten Chick-Fil-A in many months. I gave it up during the Amendment One fight - crossed LeGuin's mountains out of town - and haven't been back since. But that's easier for me to do than for many others. Sure, Chick-Fil-A's spicy chicken and waffle fries are great, but basically next door there's an excellent turkey and brie croissant with sweet potato fries that's just as good, if not better. It's as if there were another town across the mountains that was just as happy, but didn't involve child torture to keep it that way. Leaving town is a no-brainer at that point. But if giving up Chick-Fil-A meant running into the arms of the rest of Fast Food Nation? I don't know.

Perhaps, then, that's the way out of the dilemma here. We should use this Chick-Fil-A debacle as an opportunity to investigate the options that keep money closer to home, that concentrate less wealth in the hands of rich anti-gay people. Perhaps even if the Village Deli people are anti-gay, they won't be able to do as much damage as would a larger corporation. And who knows, you might find an place that leaves our homophobic Omelas in the dust.