A national debate is currently raging. Not over the merits of a war, the fairness of a national election or the scandal of a highly publicized celebrity affair. It’s over a fried chicken fast food chain, Chick-fil-A.
Chick-Fil-A’s recently uncovered anti-gay policies have spurred boycotts on the one hand, and record sales for the chain on the other. City mayors are divided on the issue, while sponsors are jumping ship even as one franchise owner from a rival fast food chain voices his support.
But while some may view Chick-fil-A’s product as trivial, the broader questions at stake certainly are not. Indeed, the fast food chain's unexpected entrance into a national debate on gay rights comes as part of a long American tradition of fighting battles of ideology on the field of consumerism. Just look at the East India Company or National City Lines, the companies confronted by the original Boston Tea Party and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, respectively.
The episode is sure to remind some of moral debates that have ensued over brands in the past, such as the 1970s and ‘80s boycott of Nestlé over its promotion of infant formula in third world countries. More recently, Ralph Lauren became a symbol of the debate over offshore manufacturing when its U.S. Olympic uniforms were found to be made in China.
But it remains anyone’s guess as to how these debates eventually shake out. More than a decade after Joe Camel was held partly responsible for increasing teen smoking by 73 percent from 1988 to 1996, tobacco sales to minors hit an all-time low last year. Meanwhile, Monsanto, the agricultural biotechnology corporation often criticized for the impact its genetically modified seed has had on local farmers, just won a $1 billion patent infringement case.
Check out some more brands that have, in one way or another, become ideological battlefields: