On Friday, The New Yorker honed in on a serious threat to the lives of all New Yorkers: the arrival of Chick-Fil-A in their homey little corner of the universe. In a 1400-word diatribe titled “Chick-Fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City,” one Dan Piepenring wrote that New Yorkers should not accept the intrusion of a popular restaurant serving chicken because the owner happens to be a religious Christian. “The air smelled fried,” Piepenring wrote, ominously.
“New York has taken to Chick-fil-A…And yet the brand’s arrival here feels like an infiltration, in no small part because of its pervasive Christian traditionalism.” What signs are there of this incipient theocracy? Its Atlanta corporate headquarters – not its New York store or any of its other stores – has Bible verses and a statue of Jesus, and its stores close on Sundays. That’s it.
But the mere whiff of Jesus means that New York must cast out Chick-fil-A like a leper, and that those who refuse to do so have succumbed to the blasphemous entreaties of the Midianites. “When a location opened in a Queens mall, in 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a boycott. No such controversy greeted the opening of this newest outpost. Chick-fil-A’s success here is a marketing coup. Its expansion raises questions about what we expect from our fast food, and to what extent a corporation can join a community,” Piepenring rants.
And insultingly, Chick-fil-A seeks to build community, using the word in its marketing, he complains. “This emphasis on community, especially in the misguided nod to 9/11, suggests an ulterior motive. The restaurant’s corporate purpose still begins with the words ‘to glorify God,’ and that proselytism thrums below the surface of the Fulton Street restaurant, which has the ersatz homespun ambiance of a megachurch.”
Are workers forced to sing hymns as they work? Are they required to worship while they work? Not at all. No, the problem is that Chick-fil-A’s VP of restaurant experience told BuzzFeed that they want their employees to be efficient but “feel like you just got hugged in the process.”
But the real gods of Chick-fil-A are – no joke – “The Cows.” According to Piepenring:
It’s impossible to overstate the role of the Cows—in official communiqués, they always take a capital “C”—who are displayed in framed portraits throughout the Fulton Street location. If the restaurant is a megachurch, the Cows are its ultimate evangelists. Since their introduction in the mid-nineties—when they began advising Atlanta motorists to “eat mor chikin”—they’ve remained one of the most popular, and most morbid, advertising campaigns in fast-food history, crucial to Chick-fil-A’s corporate culture. S. Truett Cathy, the chain’s founder and Dan Cathy’s late father, saw them as a tool to spread the gospel of chicken…It’s worth asking why Americans fell in love with an ad in which one farm animal begs us to kill another in its place.
Um, because it’s kind of funny, and acknowledges a basic truth? And because every company in America has some sort of slogan or marketing gimmick? Will Piepenring next go after the Hamburgler or Ronald MacDonald, or the lady from the Progressive commercials?
But no, it’s more sinister:
Most restaurants take pains to distance themselves from the brutalities of the slaughterhouse; Chick-fil-A invites us to go along with the Cows’ Schadenfreude. In the portraits at the Fulton Street restaurant, the Cows visit various New York landmarks. They’re in Central Park, where “eat mor chikin” has been mowed into the lawn. They’re glimpsing the Manhattan Bridge from Dumbo, where they’ve modified a stop sign: “stop eatin burgrz.” They’re on the subway, where the advertisements . . . you get the picture. The joke is that the Cows are out of place in New York—a winking acknowledgment that Chick-fil-A, too, does not quite belong here.
Yes, it doesn’t belong here because New York restaurants ought not be chain restaurants, either. The dirty sidewalk shops must never bear a corporate brand, serve fast food, or be cleaned regularly by staff:
No matter how well such restaurants integrate into the “community,” they still venerate a deadening uniformity. Homogeneous food is comfort food, and chains know that their primary appeal is palliative. With ad after ad, and storefront after storefront, they have the resources to show that they’ve always been here for us, and recent trends indicate that we prefer them over anything new or untested.
But what of the fact that Chick-fil-A donates literally tons of food to the New York Common Pantry and employs hundreds of people? That’s just because they’re trying to cover for their evil capitalism:
The more fatalistic will add that hypocrisy is baked, or fried, into every consumer experience—that unbridled corporate power makes it impossible to bring your wallet in line with your morals. Still, there’s something especially distasteful about Chick-fil-A, which has sought to portray itself as better than other fast food: cleaner, gentler, and more ethical, with its poultry slightly healthier than the mystery meat of burgers. Its politics, its décor, and its commercial-evangelical messaging are inflected with this suburban piety.
Want to know why Trump won? Because not only will he eat Chick-fil-A, but because he doesn’t scorn companies just because their owners happen to believe the crazy Biblical notions that undergird Western civilization.