Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Politics and poultry.

Years ago, when I lived in my parents' house, an aunt and uncle were in town visiting us.  As we tried to decide where to go out to dinner, Outback Steakhouse was one of the possibilities discussed.

Apparently, though, Outback had recently been involved in some controversial conservative political activism.  "Oh, no, we don't eat at Outback," my aunt said.  "They're Republican."

"But we're Republican," I said, "and you eat OUR food."

I was a smart aleck as a kid, so sue me.  But, facetiousness aside, what do politics have to do with deliciousness?  Apparently a lot, if you've noticed the recent backlash against Chick-fil-A.  Their Chief Operating Officer, Dan Cathy, has been open about his stance against gay marriage.  When asked about it directly on July 2 (about a month ago), he said "well, guilty as charged."

There have been angry boycotts since then by LGBT groups, and today there is apparently an "anti-boycott," an Appreciation Day of sorts, where people are lining up to show support to Chick-fil-A "standing up for traditional family values."  It's an interesting issue from both sides, I guess, but my question is, why is this an issue at all?

Why do we care what the COO of a fast food company believes about marriage?  Are we paying him to represent us politically?

I don't think it's our responsibility as consumers to worry about where our money ends up after passing through various hands.  The only thing we should care about is what's on the receipt.  Our responsibility as consumers is to support good products, not necessarily good people.  If I buy a CD at Best Buy, am I responsible for how they treat their employees there?  If I buy the 2002 film "The Pianist," am I supporting Roman Polanski's sexual crimes and subsequent fleeing from the law?  If I buy a chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A, am I a bigot?  My answer is a resounding "no," but some people disagree.

One Facebook friend of mine posted the following status:  "for the ignorant, let me break it down for you. You support Chick-fil-A, a company known for giving money to anti homosexual groups. You buy their unhealthy food at a marked up price, which inevitably contributes to their profits. That profit gets turned around and donated to these anti homosexual groups. Congratulations, you support homophobia."

There are several problems with this statement.  First off, homophobia is sort of a strong word to use for groups like the Family Foundation who aim to maintain traditional definitions of marriage.  Saying "I'm not on board with gay marriage" is totally not the same as saying "I hate gays."  You can be against gay marriage without being a homophobe.  If that isn't obvious, take a look at an example:  Josh Weed, who is openly gay, actively Mormon, and happily married to a woman, with whom he's had children.  He's clearly not homophobic.  He's not even uncomfortable about his own homosexuality, to say nothing of anyone else's.  So how can every person who believes in traditional marriage be homophobic?  But, now that we've gotten rid of the straw-man argument, I want to return to my real objection: 

When you buy chicken at a fast food joint, you are paying for the chicken and the chicken only.  If it's good chicken, it's your prerogative to buy it.  Even more:  it's your JOB to buy it, as a responsible consumer.  When we buy good products, we get more good products.  When we buy crappy products (like spending $709.7 million on a movie based on a line of children's toys), we get more crappy products.

Think about it.  Do we really want a country where people won't do commerce with those who have beliefs different than their own?  As one article points out:  "On both sides of our latest culture war divide, we must learn to have level-headed disagreements without resorting to accusations of hate speech and boycotts. As Josh Ozersky argued on TIME Thursday, 'businesses should be judged by their products and their practices, not by their politics.'"

We don't need to give perceived political power to fast food joints.  Their job is to make food.  If they do it well, they deserve business.  If they don't, they don't.  Dan Cathy's opinions on Adam and Steve have nothing to do with that principle, regardless of where he spends his money.  Notice I said "his" money.  As soon as the transaction is over and I'm eating my sandwich, it's not my money anymore.  It's his.