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Love or hate Chick-fil-A? Try Chick-filanthropy to offset your consumption

Chick-fil-A is based in Atlanta and has expanded across the country. (David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Matt Pitman says that Chick-fil-A is partially responsible for his existence. The original Chick-fil-A operation in Hapeville, Georgia — called the Dwarf House — was where his parents had their very first date.

“They were married for 39 happy, blissful years and it all started at that original Chick-fil-A,” he said. “How’s that for a weird conundrum? Not only am I now a 39-year-old gay dude in a liberal city who loves Chick-fil-A, but I exist because they had their first date at the original Chick-fil-A.”

Pitman is originally from Atlanta where Chick-fil-A is headquartered. He grew up with it. His family members work for the company. He is aware of a wealth of good that the company does. But he’s also aware that the fast food chain has become notorious for supporting anti-LGBTQ causes and organizations. And it has no intention of stopping. The issue is so prevalent, Wikipedia has an entry just for the company’s stance on this issue.

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Chick-fil-A has proven to be an exercise in cognitive dissonance for many — bad reputation, but great food. While critics boycott Chick-fil-A over its politics, the chain is expanding across the country. The newest franchise opened its drive-thru last week in Seattle’s Bitter Lake area (128th Street North and Aurora Avenue). There were some grumblings about it locally, but no protests emerged — which seems odd for Seattle.

Perhaps that’s because Chick-fil-A has something that quells opposition — its food.

“I’m a 39-year-old gay man living around Seattle, I’m the person who is not supposed to eat at Chick-fil-A,” Pitman said, noting that he eats there twice a month. “I love it. It’s delicious. I get the super basic thing, just the regular number 1. I don’t want any lettuce, no tomato, none of that funny business. I want the chicken, the pickles, the bun, the waffle fries, and the sweet tea. I’ve grown up on that.”

When Chick-fil-A debuted in Washington with a location in Bellevue, there was no inner battle for Pitman. He doesn’t fault people for boycotting Chick-fil-A, however. He respects that stance, but doesn’t personally feel the company would change because of his absence. On top of that, he “just doesn’t care.”

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“I was going to cross the line and be that bad gay,” Pitman said. “…And I don’t go there because I care about what the owner of the company thinks, I go there because no one makes a chicken sandwich like they do …. Because they have been so vocal about their support of certain politicians, and so vocal about opposition to same-sex marriage, and so vocal about financial contribution to pro-life causes, they have put themselves in this position. They have a PR problem. They need to quit talking so much about their holier-than-thou views on things that aren’t chicken sandwiches.”

“I think that positions are regressive,” he said. “But let’s be real honest here. They are a privately-owned company, they can do whatever the heck they want, and oh yeah, their chicken sandwiches are just that good. And I don’t go there to talk with management about their politics. I go there to get food and get out.”

Chick-fil-A and Chick-filanthropy

Genevieve Haas does care, however. Like Pitman, she grew up in the Atlanta area, also frequenting the fast food joint. It’s woven into the fabric of her childhood. To her, it’s a comfort food and a nostalgic treat, especially as she now lives across the country in Seattle.

“Whatever Chick-fil-A has going for its secret recipe, it’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever had anywhere else,” she said. “I’ve actually tried to recreate it.”

She thinks pickle juice might be the key to the recipe, and she’s come close, but it’s still not the same. Her love for Chick-fil-A runs so deep that when she travels, she searches airports for a location. Like Pitman, she is put off by the company’s politics. Her reaction is different, however.

“If somebody would fault me for consuming a product from Chick-fil-A because of their record of supporting anti-LGBTQ causes, I totally get it,” Haas said. “I’m uncomfortable with it myself. So I make a compromise by offsetting my purchases there with a donation to the Pride Foundation here in Washington.”

After hearing of Haas’ idea, a friend dubbed the ethical consumption as “Chick-filanthropy” and she ran with it. She describes it as a “cap and trade system with morally dubious fast food.”

“I occasionally will get a meal from Chick-fil-A,” she said. “When I do, I spend at least the cost of what I spent there on a cause that counters the negative work the Chick-fil-A foundation supports. They support causes that are against LGBTQ folks, so I try to counteract that by donating to a cause that supports LGBTQ folks.”

Haas also notes that the company has its good points. She has always had a pleasant experience at the actual restaurants. The staff always seem uniformly amazing. It’s the negative PR from the top that has prompted Chick-filanthropy.

“This is what I do to live with myself and my consumption,” she said. “But I would never tell someone else who feels victimized by their political stance, or their giving, to feel like it’s not OK to boycott them. People should do what feels right to them. This feels right to me.”

“I think you have a bad strain running through their philanthropy that is causing them bad PR, and they deserve every ounce of it,” Haas said. “If you do bad things, you should get bad PR.”

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