Your Move, Chick-fil-A

The Great Sandwich Dilemma (image courtesy of fastcocreate.com

Author, ARTvision founder and NYE Gourmet Pizza chef Will Pollock makes a plea to the chicken-sandwich giant to support an Atlanta cause

“In debating whether or not to visit Chick-fil-A due to their support of conservative, anti-LGBT causes, sometimes the sandwich wins.”

Such was the thought of a Facebook commenter I spotted earlier this year, and it struck me as a truism – especially here in Atlanta, where the restaurant company calls home. Many of my friends debate whether or not to patronize the company that has gone out of its way to spurn the LGBTQ community with its CEO, Dan Cathy, making comments to the Baptist Press supporting “the biblical definition of the family unit.” The company has reportedly had a history of donating to anti-LGBT organizations – nearly $2 million in 2010 alone – but said this year that it would halt the practice.

Business for the company hasn’t suffered – actually, quite the contrary. Folks camped out at restaurant locations ahead of  Mike Huckabee’s call for an “Appreciation Day,” which spurred record sales for the company that day. In response, my friend Shannon Marie King guest-posted on my blog the heartfelt op-ed, “A Sad, Divisive Day for America,” as a way to sort out her frustration:

“The media talks about the liberals, the conservatives, the Christians, the gays, the Muslims, the blacks. When are we going to stop and realize we are all human beings who want to love and be loved? I am deeply saddened to tears that we have to have all of these divisions, separations, categories. We are all Americans. On our worst days we rally together and love each other. On our best days we fight against each other. Why? How does someone else committing to the person they love with all their heart, affect you? How does it limit your rights? It doesn’t.”

Those points take me beyond a simple sandwich conundrum and in to contemplating the socio-political activities by a multi-national corporation that intentionally excludes a segment of the population. According to its website, the company can stay true to God while upholding the human rights of all:

A part of our corporate commitment is to be responsible stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Because of this commitment, Chick-fil-A’s giving heritage is focused on programs that educate youth, strengthen families and enrich marriages, and support communities. We will continue to focus our giving in those areas. Our intent is not to support political or social agendas.

As we have stated, the Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 restaurants run by independent Owner/Operators.

The story is a zig-zaggy one, with hard-numbered accounting difficult to find. According to Delish.com, fallout from CFA’s activities began in early 2011 (although the activity could be traced back to as early as 2003) when Indiana University South Bend yanked Chick-fil-A from campus when it was revealed that the company made food donations to an anti-gay event in Pennsylvania. Many similar rebukes would occur from that point forward, at universities like Emory University here in Atlanta and in major municipalities like Chicago, Los Angeles, the aforementioned D.C., and Boston. (read the timeline here)

Major companies also got in on the act: the Jim Henson Co. canceled its partnership with the company, as did Disney and others. But then, of course, an inevitable backlash-to-the-backlash ensued, with Mike Huckabee declaring “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” on 1 August 2012. The restaurant chain didn’t disclose numbers but said it had a record sales day with lines out the door.

Campus Pride executive director Shane Windmeyer added another voice to the issue, too, with a Huffington Post piece this past January entitled, “Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A.” The widely shared post chronicles Shane’s movement from being “angry at and deeply distrustful” at the company, to canceling Campus Pride’s 10-year-long protest of the company after Dan Cathy personally engaged him in dialogue and friendship with a random call on his cell phone. Windmeyer was Cathy’s personal guest at the Chick-fil-A bowl last year, noting that Cathy chatted with him for the better part of the event.

“It is not often that people with deeply held and completely opposing viewpoints actually risk sitting down and listening to one another,” he wrote. Perfect thought. I reached out to Windmeyer via Twitter and e-mail and didn’t receive a reply; I’d still like to speak to him, on the record, for a post on our website.

But you’ll forgive me if the air still appears a bit cloudy, which brings me to my current dilemma: whether or not to serve “Closed on Sundays,” the popular pizza for my Annual New Year’s Eve Gourmet Pizza Extravaganza. The pie – with a honey-mustard base and diced CFA chicken strips topped with mozzarella – is hands down the most popular of the ones I’ve created for this party, now in its eleventh year. This pie, along with myriad others, has been a mainstay for New Year’s Eve revelers in Atlanta looking for a chill, lower-key experience as they reflect on the year past and the one to come.

“Closed on Sundays” and its popularity, though, also have become fuel for two other movements. The Gourmet Pizza Party, and its many attendees, gave birth to an artists’ collaborative, ARTvision Atlanta, that has now earned more than $40,000 in funds for three different charities. This effort is a cornerstone fund-raising engine for Positive Impact, an Atlanta agency that provides mental-health counseling and testing services to those affected by HIV in our city.

This is a model that folks all across the country can replicate – to that end, “Pizza for Good,” due in November 2013, will be a pizza-party chronicle, tracing the rise of ARTvision and how everyone can transform our nation’s favorite food into a community game-changer.

"Instinct in the Round: Gourmet Pizza for Good" by Will Pollock (Agate Publishing)

“Instinct in the Round: Gourmet Pizza for Good” by Will Pollock (Agate Publishing)

PFG will have 20 recipes complete with themed pizzas (including a homemade version of “Closed on Sundays”), oral histories, storytelling, original photos and many more tips and tricks on how to create your own movement around pizza. Think of it as returning the craft of pizza to the people, who ultimately make the difference in communities anyway.

I’ve signed a number of partnering restaurants and companies to help support this effort, and will be working to sign more, so I’m drawn to the natural question: could Chick-fil-A support this cause and make amends for their stance (perceived or otherwise) on LGBT issues?

Positive Impact is not just a superb agency working within the LGBT community; they are people working on behalf of other people. It’s that simple. I’m not a Fox News pundit calling his flock to a beloved sandwich store; I represent a collected community and national artist group wanting to and making a difference at a grassroots level.

How have we made a difference? We’ve had a local italian restaurant, Baraonda Atlanta, graciously donate dough to our cause; we have also had 30+ artists over seven years graciously give of their talent for charitable fundraising, and generous donors resounding in turn; most notably, we have raised more than $40,000 over an eight-year stretch.

I’m donating 50% of after-cost PFG proceeds to Positive Impact, and so I’m calling on the folks at CFA to help us do some good – rather than simply decline to support the “anti” causes. Let’s give some of that enthusiasm for your company back to the local community. Here are some ideas:

  • Make a symbolic donation of $1,000 to PI and I will brag about you until the cows come home – or until the company retires the tired cow-marketing program, whichever comes first;
  • Donate chicken strips to the event so we may offer the popular pizza with a clear conscience; or
  • Issue a letter of support for our event and effort to support Positive Impact’s programs

In the dilemma of whether or not supporting PI is a divergent action that offends Christian values, the basic idea is this: help people who need help, and remove labels. It’s your move to make.

Most of all, please, help us get over our sandwich conundrum. We want no guilt as we decide whether or not to go through your drive thru. – Will Pollock

UPDATE: Shane Windmeyer made some important in-roads with Dan Cathy. Check out his account on Huffington Post – hoping to reach him for an interview.

UPDATE 2: Dan Cathy tweets, then deletes, a statement condemning the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA.

UPDATE 3: Dan Cathy gives a wide-ranging interview to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in which he expresses regret about inserting the company in the debate about marriage equality and LGBT rights in general.

Watch this space for any further updates.


Founded in 2006, ARTvision Atlanta is an artists’ collaborative that presents creative works across multiple platforms – mixed-media, photography, painting, music, books, sculpture and more – for the 100% benefit of Atlanta-based Positive Impact. (learn more)