I’m the Southerner on this trip. I was born and raised outside of Houston and attended The University of Texas at Austin as an undergraduate. Over time, my “Hook’em Horns” has morphed into “Hook’em Huskies” as I’ve come to love Seattle, but once a Texan, always a Texan.
For our coverage of the South Carolina Republican Party primary, I am all in as a Southerner. First and foremost that means food.
Food is the portal to everything in the South. Let’s consider a Southern institution, Chick-fil-A.
When I fly back to Texas my parents know that it is essential that we stop for some chicken nuggets on the way from the airport in Houston to our home in Richmond. But it doesn’t stop there. Their buttery, oh-so-not-healthy-for-you chicken biscuits are a breakfast staple. And on New Years my family of 5 gets a large nugget tray with enough to feed 15. Go big or go home, right?
Being a Chick-fil-A fan comes with a few challenges, though.
First, there is only one franchise in all of Washington, on the Western Washington campus in Bellingham. If only the UW could get with it.
Second, when I’m back in Chick-fil-A country like this week, the heartbreaker is they are closed on Sundays. Like God, Chick-fil-A rests on Sunday.
Like many things in the South, religion has found its way into even fast food. The founder of Chick-fil-A is a devout Southern Baptist, and wanted the franchise closed on Sundays so as to honor God. In fact, the company’s purpose statement says the company exists “to glorify God by being a faithful steward.”
Chick-fil-A is not alone among restaurants mixing food and faith. In-N-Out Burger prints Bible verses on their paper goods. (Picture a bag of fries with “John 3:16” printed on the bottom.)
Unlike the discreet bible references, the more explicit religious backbone of Chick-fil-A has caused the company some ill will. Beyond the disgruntled chicken lovers who want to get in their fill on Sundays, the company has been in the news for its contributions to organizations that oppose same-sex marriage.
When these contributions came to light, my Facebook news feed was filled with friends and family saying they were going to boycott the company. Try as they might, people were not able to separate church and chicken.
At the intersection of religion and society, this situation prompts the question: When does patronage for food turn into patronage for a company’s beliefs? Chick-fil-A consumers are not alone. Other fast food founders, such as Carl Karcher of Carl’s Jr. and Tom Monaghan of Domino’s Pizza, have used their wealth to privately support religious-based groups. But getting between a Southerner and their food is tricky business. Throw religion into the mix and things just get down right messy.
But not on Sundays at Chick-fil-A. Nothing gets messy there.