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Chick-fil-A and the Pete Buttigieg defense against boycotts

Written By | Apr 8, 2019

WASHINGTON: Chick-fil-A (CFA) operates over 2200 restaurants in 47 states and the District of Columbia. Competition between potential franchisees to open new restaurants is stiff: CFA receives 20,000 franchise applications per year, and it grants only 75 to 80.

If the competition is stiff, the rewards for success are high. The franchisee pays only $10,000, with Chick-fil-A picking up the startup costs. CFA restaurants earn an average of $4.4 million per year, the highest in the industry. Kentucky Fried Chicken, in comparison, earns only $1.1 million per restaurant. CFA customers are loyal. They’ve made CFA the top chicken restaurant in the Harris Poll’s EquiTrend restaurant poll for six years in a row (most recent data: 2017).

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Chick-fil-A is a profitable firm that treats its franchisees and employees well. It produces one of the country’s most popular (and by many accounts tastiest) chicken sandwiches. CFA is an American success story that everyone should love.

You probably sense a “but” coming.

So who doesn’t like Chick-fil-A?

Quite a few people, as it turns out. Rider University in New Jersey decided to invite a fast-food restaurant onto campus. They polled students to see which restaurant they wanted. The students wanted Chick-fil-A. Administrators balked.

CFA, they declared, would not be on their campus, because of “the company’s record widely perceived to be in opposition to the LGBTQ community.”

Rider isn’t the first university to ban Chick-fil-A. Students at Johns Hopkins University voted to keep it off campus in 2015, though there was no indication that there were any plans for one to open there.

Emory University, in CFA’s home town of Atlanta, booted CFA from its campus in 2013.

Not just universities are in on this game. Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago denounced Chick-fil-A as unrepresentative of “Chicago values” (no CFA executives have been convicted on corruption charges or for staging hate crimes). New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called for a boycott to keep the restaurant from opening new stores in his city.

In the last month, Chick-fil-A has been blocked from opening in airports in Buffalo and San Antonio. The reason in both cases was the firm’s donations to anti-LGBT groups, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg in defense of Chick-fil-A

De Blasio’s boycott flopped. New Yorkers may hate Chick-fil-A’s political giving, but a lot of them love its sandwiches, waffle fries, and frosted lemonades. And they have company.

Comedian Fortune Feimster joked:

There’s only been one time where being gay was hard for me, and that was when the gay community declared war against Chick-Fil-A. Oh, that was a dark day, you guys. Because here’s the deal, people: I’m fat first, lesbian second. That’s the order. … Their chicken doesn’t taste like it hates gay people! Their chicken tastes very gay-friendly!”

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Mayor Pete Buttigieg, whose candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination has thrilled the gay community, said in a radio interview, “I do not approve of their politics, but I kind of approve of their chicken.”

Buttigieg added to his remarks in a Buzzfeed interview:

“If you’re turned off, as I am, by the political behavior of Chick-fil-A or their executives—if that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, so to speak, and you decide not to shop there, I’d certainly get it and I’d support that. But the reality is, we, I think, sometimes slip into a sort of virtue signaling in some cases where we’re not really being consistent. I mean, what about all the other places we get our chicken from?”

The Buttigieg defense

Buttigieg highlights a problem that, in its crudest leftwing form, boils down to, “consumption under capitalism is always unethical.” That is, when you buy a chicken sandwich, you have no idea where the money will eventually go, and which political causes it will eventually help support. Owners, managers, employees, people up and down the supply chain and others will have money to do God-knows-what.

Buttigieg highlights another problem: virtue signaling and human inconsistency.

Most of us have strong convictions and ideals, but we are inconsistent in the way we apply them. From a distance, our ideals and moral values can look as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. But when you try to pin them down and make them consistent, they end up as solid as sand.

Why boycott Chick-fil-A?

Because you believe it promotes evil, of course. If a firm promotes evil, you boycott it, don’t you?

I don’t. I’m typing this article on an Apple computer. Apple makes its products in China, a country that routinely violates human rights and feeds American technology to its military machine. American tech firms are helping China oppress its people more effectively.

I’ll share this article on FaceBook.

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FaceBook did more to promote Russian interference in our politics than any other platform. It also plays fast and loose with our privacy. My keyboard is protected with a cover that I bought on Amazon. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos may be the closest thing there is to a James Bond villain.

He treats his low-level employees like the vermin their SPECTRE overlords think they are.

Why boycott a firm that treats its employees well and gives them ten times as much in scholarship money as it donates to conservative Christian causes? That question takes on deeper importance when we casually turn over hundreds of billions to a man (Bezos) whose employees end up with urinary tract infections because they don’t get toilet breaks.

Why boycott anyone? Why not?

Many people boycott Chick-fil-A not because it’s the most evil firm in the world, but because it’s small and easy to boycott. Boycotting Amazon is harder. Amazon makes life easier for many of us. It saves us money and brings us things that we can’t buy locally. So, Amazon employees can just wear diapers and get on with getting us our stuff.

We’re as ready to dispense with Amazon as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is to dispense with hot water, electric lights and air travel for the sake of reducing her carbon footprint.

Chick-fil-A isn’t as useful as Amazon or hydrocarbons. There are other fine chicken options in the market. Boycotting CFA would be painless. An Amazon boycott would hurt, and an oil company boycott would be excruciating.

If you’re going to boycott a firm on the basis of moral qualms, consider joining a boycott that costs you something. Joining the Chick-fil-A boycott costs us nothing, but it can cost the people who work there their jobs. Will you hire them?

If you want others to suffer for your principles, will you suffer for them, too?

Jim Picht

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics. He teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years doing economic development work in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He has also worked in Latin America, the former USSR and the Balkans as an educator, teaching courses in economics and law at universities in Ukraine and at finance ministries throughout the region. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.