Opinion: ‘Chick-fil-A controversy leaves a bitter taste for some longtime fans’

Gay Rights Activists participate in Chick Fil A Kiss-In

Gay Rights Activists participate in Chick Fil A Kiss-In

By Virginia Willis,

Special to CNN Eatocracy 

Editor’s note: Chefs with Issues is a platform for chefs and farmers we love, fired up for causes about which they’re passionate. Virginia Willis, a graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine and Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne, is the author of “Bon Appétit, Y’all” and “Basic to Brilliant, Y’all.” 

(CNN) — As a chef and food writer, I rarely eat fast food. The quality is generally atrocious and much of it is radically unhealthy. The menu offerings are the polar opposite of local and seasonal. There are dire implications concerning worker’s rights and wages, as well as animal welfare and factory farms.

It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, every interstate exit is identical with the same usual suspects offering the same sad sacks of chemically laced, artificially flavored fare, all swimming in high fructose corn syrup. Cheap, fast food is at the core of what is wrong with our food system.

Yet, there’s one thing that trumps my French-training and chef sensibilities; I love Chick-fil-A.

As a native Georgian, it’s been a part of my life my entire life. Chick-fil-A is a Southern institution. It’s the only place in America where you can ask for a “half and half” and receive a perfect blend of sweet and unsweetened tea, not a dairy product. In truth, the quality of Chick-fil-A food is superior to many fast food establishments. The salads, slaws, tea, and lemonade are made daily from scratch in the restaurants, not at a commissary kitchen seven states away.

My favorite sandwich is the classic fried chicken sandwich on the buttered bun. The steam from the slightly sweet, golden brown chicken condenses inside the foil-lined package and wilts the bread, just enough. I prefer plain, no lettuce, no tomato, just mayonnaise, and the perfect pop of sour pickle.

I’ve always known that founder Truett Cathy was a religiously conservative Christian. I applaud the fact that he’s closed on Sunday and strong in his faith. The outlets are part of the local community, supporting the schools and sports teams. I admire the work of Chick-fil-A’s WinShape Foundation in regards to foster homes, scholarships and education, food donations for disaster relief, first responders, and the military. Service, volunteering, and giving back are at the heart of Chick-fil-A, qualities I aspire to, advocate, and admire.

I, too, am a Christian. I am also a lesbian. And while many religious conservatives think I am going to burn in hell and my existence is a crime against nature, I refuse to believe that God doesn’t love me because I am gay. I refuse to believe that God made a mistake.

I refuse to believe that something is wrong with me and I need “conversion therapy.” I refuse to call those anti-same sex marriage groups pro-family because that doesn’t include my very real family, my love, and my commitment to my partner. I also absolutely refuse to believe that if I choose to marry another woman that I am somehow harming the institution of marriage.

Controversy erupted last summer with Chick-fil-A president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy’s remarks about being against gay marriage, “guilty as charged.” It led to Mike Huckabee’s crusade, Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day and the subsequent boycott of Chick-fil-A by gay, lesbian, and like-minded individuals, myself included.

The Chick-fil-A website states that the corporate giving has been “mischaracterized.” Well, there’s nothing “mischaracterizing” about their — now former — funding of the ultra-conservative groups such as Family Research Council, Eagle Forum, and Exodus International, all aggressively anti-homosexual.

Just this week, gay rights organization Campus Pride issued a statement claiming that Chick-fil-A gave the organization’s executive director, Shane Windmeyer, access to recent Chick-fil-A tax documents. After reviewing the company’s 2011 and 2012 financials — which have not been released publicly — Windmeyer said Chick-fil-A no longer gives funds to “the most divisive anti-LGBT groups.”

For a long time, I cast a blind eye towards Chick-fil-A corporate giving and through my patronage, contributed to the very religious conservative groups that abhor my existence. Ah, the power of a chicken sandwich. But, when it all came to a head last summer, I could no longer ignore it. I quit supporting Chick-fil-A and said farewell to my favorite beverage, the perfect thirst-quenching combination of a half-and-half tea.

The truth is that Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was not about freedom of speech. It was a simply thinly veiled protest against homosexuals, period. Those swarms of conservatives weren’t lining up around the block getting waffle fries and chicken sandwiches to protest such lofty ideals as upholding the constitution and protecting the First Amendment. I believe they were showing that they are united against same-sex marriage and against gays, in general.

So, earlier this week I drew a shallow breath of relief when the news surfaced that Chick-fil-A wasn’t as aggressively homophobic and had quit funding the groups. The company website states, “Our intent is not to support political or social agendas.”

The recent news may have influenced my subconsciously stopping and picking up a half-and-half tea just this very morning, the first I’ve had since summer. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but going forward, I’m honestly not certain what I will do — if I will continue my renewed patronage of Chick-fil-A or not. Truthfully, I now have a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth and sadly, my once perfect half-and half tea just doesn’t taste as sweet.

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