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Posted at 02:38 PM ET, 07/20/2012

Chick-fil-A and the other omnivore’s dilemma


Here’s the sandwich in question. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
I can occasionally stomach lectures on religion from actual human beings. I barely want to listen to people about politics.

But I draw the line at hearing from my sandwich.

I wish my food would disagree with me the traditional way — after I have eaten it and not before.

Next bacon will come out against women’s rights, and then where will I be?

Food has its own politics. Just try telling New Yorkers how much soda they can buy in a single swoop. But what to do if your delicious chicken sandwich had strong, negative feelings about marriage equality? “Please,” you begged. “Must we discuss this at the table? Can’t we put the politics on the side, along with the mayonnaise and inevitable pickle?”

There are some subjects on which, the less I hear from my food, the better. “Waiter, there’s a copy of Leviticus in my soup!” I yelp.

“I’m sorry, miss. I’ll replace it with a fly.”

So I’ve been conflicted about this Chick-fil-A business. On the one hand, food. On the other, principles. There’s a reason it’s called standing on your principles, not eating on your principles. Anyone can stand. But principled eating! The stomach balks. I quail. The thought of quail makes me remember how juicy and succulent the chicken at Chick-fil-A is. Perhaps it is the strength of their convictions that gives it that robust, crisp, golden —

No. Stop.

The ability of the founding fathers to give up their tea over a matter as minor as representative government continues to astound me. I don’t have convictions before I have coffee. Clearly, they were made of sterner stuff than I.

I love food with a deep, wide, broad, disinterested and constant love that I hope my Creator feels for me.

The best stomachs, said Voltaire, are not those that refuse all food. Mine refuses no food whatsoever.

I’ve always maintained (well, Oscar Wilde has maintained, and I’ve quoted) that the fact of a man’s being a poisoner is nothing against his poetry. I don’t care what you look like, what you believe in, where you come from, who you are, whether or not you just touched trace amounts of staphylococccus — if you know how to make a good chicken sandwich, I will eat it, and I will pay you for it.

There are other ways to make the world a better place than to vote with your stomach.

Besides, as a general rule, if a food item’s main selling point is the fact that it benefits some cause, it does not taste very good. You do not make a big fuss over the fact that your granola cookies benefit the rainforest unless people were unlikely to buy the cookies on their own. There is no such thing as a moral sandwich or an immoral sandwich. Sandwiches taste good, or they do not. That is all. Once you start judging sandwiches on criteria other than how good they taste, you wind up in a world full of mediocre sandwiches, and that impoverishes everyone.

But I am an unprincipled stomach. Others stand firm. After all, they argue, sandwiches are replaceable. There are other sandwiches that do not come with a lecture included. They taste almost as good.

And this is why Chick-fil-A has been such a problem. When Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy made news about his beliefs instead of his chicken, he forced us to think about more than simply how good the chicken tastes. This sort of thinking is dangerous. It’s not only the enjoyment of sausages that depends upon ignoring how exactly they were made. The people who insist on eating only animals that have been reared in more idyllic circumstances than many Hollywood actors have my respect, but I could not be like them. Start examining the causes and effects of what you eat, and eventually you wind up holed up on a farm eating only the eggs of the contented chickens and apologizing to your carrots as you pluck them. Or something. Ask Michael Pollan.

It is bad enough to have to examine the caloric content of my food. To have to go over each item on the menu with a lorgnette scoping out the producer’s values — this leads nowhere good. You can disagree with someone about principles while admitting that he makes by far the best brisket in the DMV area.

Cathy has principles about which he feels strongly. If he makes profits by selling delicious, delicious chicken sandwiches to me, he is entitled to do whatever he likes with those profits. But sure enough, people started to boycott and denounce!

After a week of backlash, the company posted on its Facebook page: “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

Do what you like. Just don’t shove it down our gullets. We need that space for the waffle fries.

By  |  02:38 PM ET, 07/20/2012

 
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