Chick-fil-A, Papa John’s and In-N-Out Burger: Spare us your fast-food righteousness

Petula Dvorak
Columnist August 13, 2012

Since when does serving up junk food give someone a license to preach?

Politics and all things fried, fatty and fast are becoming intertwined to the point of absurdity.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

We’ve got the Papa John’s pizza guys weighing in on the health-care debate, while the burger slingers out west at In-N-Out can’t serve up a cheeseburger without a Bible verse.

The craziness of fast-food commentary on social issues became obvious to me when I stumbled into a totally earnest discussion at a party last week by a bunch of Washingtonians who personally support the right to same-sex marriage, but are also wickedly addicted to Chick-fil-A sandwiches.

This is the stuff of serious dilemma inside the Beltway.

“I don’t know what to do about it. I mean, I guess I can go through the drive-thru where no one will see me,” one woman said.

“It doesn’t matter if anyone sees you there. It’s about helping them fund hate groups by buying their hate-chicken,” another responded.

“Have you had that banana cream pie milkshake?” someone asked.

And the entire room dissolved into a quiet moment of personal ecstasy, the kind that ends with a head-shake of loss, grief and sorrow.

Why did they have to go there?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy opposes same-sex marriage to anyone who has heard the hymns piped into the restaurant or tried to tame a chicken jones on a Sunday, only to find a closed restaurant because Sunday is for God, not chicken. But his remarks on the subject created a furor and divided the nation yet again along political lines.

Conservatives flocked to chicken appreciation day to voice their support for Cathy, creating huge lines at Chick-fil-As across the country. Gay rights activists answered with a Chick-fil-A kiss-in.

The indignation and protests have yet to die down. A Frederick Chick-fil-A suffered an overnight vandal attack this weekend. It was plastered with stickers, gay pride flags and homemade signs.

The Advocate published a mock Chick-fil-A home recipe: “How to Fill Those Chick-fil-A Cravings.”

The back-backlash now has Internet memes from gay folks who are asking their friends and supporters to stop the madness and do something positive for the same-sex cause instead. (Many of these are also admitted chicken addicts who also can’t see going cold turkey on that chicken.)

On the other end of the spectrum, the folks who brought us the bulk of that eat-a-pint-after-a-breakup weight, Ben & Jerry’s, churned out a Hubby-Hubby flavor in support of same-sex marriage.

Why does bad food have to come with politics? Where do the broccoli people stand on abortion? That, we’ll never know.

But over at Papa John’s Pizza, CEO and founder John Schnatter, a Mitt Romney fundraiser, declared last week that the company would raise the price of its pies if health-care reform stands.

Somehow, it is funny that a place where a single slice of “The Meats” pizza can run you 400 calories, 19 grams of fat and 1,100 milligrams of sodium decides to weigh in on the health-care debate.

Sort of like the Medellin drug cartel taking a stand on border patrol.

I just landed in my home state of California and was reminded of the fast-food preaching when we did our ritual stop at a California cult classic, In-N-Out Burger. It’s the one served at Oscar parties. And I’m sorry, it beats Five Guys et al. Hands down.

For decades, In-N-Out has printed small, discreet references to Bible verses on its paperware.

The seam of a cheeseburger wrapper simply says “Revelation 3:20,” which basically tells you that God will come share that burger with you if you open the door. Different passage citations come on the fries, the double-double, a milkshake. The underside of a large soda will get you John 3:16. Yup, same one Denver Bronco Tim Tebow put on his eye black.

I like these Bible verses, and some of them do have deep meaning in the way I choose to live my life. But why can’t I just enjoy the burger without the Scripture?

And no, Chick-fil-A, please don’t take a cue and start printing Leviticus 18:22 on your wrappers.

We don’t always hear about politics from shoe magnates or cabinet companies or even the one fast-food place that seems to be kind of good for you, Subway.

No, it seems that there’s something about the artery-clogging food barons that gives them some sort of calling to publicly weigh in on controversial, political topics.

It’s been going on for decades.

In the 1990s, Domino’s owner Tom Monaghan went all in-your-face about his opposition to abortion.

Oh, the debates in college dorms those days. Moral conviction usually gave way when the munchies took over and that call for a large pepperoni was made anyway.

Doesn’t matter anymore. Monaghan sold the Domino’s franchise to Bain Capital in 1998. (Shall I make a political comment here? Nah . . .)

A similar scenario played around that time with Carl Karcher, founder of Carl’s Jr.

University of California at Irvine protested the chain’s plan to put a restaurant on campus.

Carl Karcher “has a strong reputation in Orange County for his opposition to minorities, women, gays and lesbians,” Robert F. Gentry, associate dean of students and staff adviser to the Gay and Lesbian Student Union, told the Los Angeles Times in 1988.

Ultimately, the protesters didn’t stop the chain from challenging California beach bods with its 1,030-calorie, Western Bacon Six Dollar Burger.

It’s almost as though these guys think that the more damage their products do to your body, the more right they have to tell you what you can do with it.

Since then, Karcher died, the abortion rhetoric faded and now the chain gets in trouble only for racy ads with Paris Hilton. (Wow, remember her?)

Of course, this is America. And all business owners have a right to express their views however they see fit. But sometimes a right simply turns into righteous.

And that doesn’t taste too good.

Follow me on Twitter @petulad.

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