I have never eaten much fast food. Living in large cities for most of my childhood and youth, I neither encountered fast-food restaurants often enough to take notice, nor felt tempted to select them over literally hundreds of more interesting and unusual choices. In moving to the South, however, I found that they were everywhere, and, even despite the resistance of habit and snobbish denial, they were beginning to obtrude themselves on my consciousness. Still, I resisted for several years, until my daughter became part of a playgroup with four other girls, whose mommies did not seem to mind one restaurant in particular – Chick-Fil-A.
In the beginning, between its novelty, its tasty new Spicy Chicken Sandwich, the presence of an indoor playground, and kids’ meals complete with educational Cd’s from PBS shows, I could find almost no wrong with it. It seemed silly to oppose fast food on principle, especially when it was less unhealthy than most, and had quickly become a cheerful tradition for the girls. And so we went, almost every week, first to storytime at our local bookstore, and then to Chick-Fil-A.
After a while I started judging myself for the addiction I was rapidly developing to the tasty sandwich, and for my willingness to load up my kids with goodness-knows-what fried in breadcrumbs and served in a cardboard box. I began noticing the relative nastiness of the indoor playground surfaces, and the unwillingness of other parents to supervise their offspring as closely as I would have wished. Still, the kids were happy, and so we went, almost every week, first to storytime at our local bookstore, and then to Chick-Fil-A.
The first sign of real trouble came when I opened another kids’ meal to find in it not a lovely collection of slightly edited songs from Between The Lions (I should have figured it out when I heard them relabeling Dionysis from an Olympian into a “very powerful man” in their rendition of the Greek myth, but I was blinded by love for tasty chicken) I got a Cd from a show cAlled Veggie Tales. Having never heard of it before, I innocently put the Cd in on the way home and nearly hit the car in front of me when, instead of mildly educational content I got a song entitled “God is bigger than a Bogeyman.” Thoroughly creeped out by the many creepy aspects of this: Nightmares, anyone? Bizarre fears? Promotion of a particular and very odd take on religion? – I tossed the Cd, calmed my children in regard to Bogeymen and their kin, and returned, the following week, and for many weeks after that, to Chick-Fil-A.
I should have stopped then. I don’t know whether it was the chicken, the children, or the peer pressure from the other mommies, but we kept going there like clockwork. We kept going even after I discovered some negative and odoriferous effects our little fast-food trips had on the contents of my younger child’s diaper. I would pack him a snack, take the kids to playgroup, and follow the minivan caravan right back to a place that was rapidly losing all of its appeal.
I have always prided myself on making informed consumer choices. I did not join Curves because of their anti-choice political donations. I avoided Walmart even before reading Nickel and Dimed in America, worried that their treatment of employees and constant underpricing was not what I wanted to take part in. But looking back, I think I made those choices not because they were right, but because they were easy. I may have thought that not joining Curves was a blow against the anti-choice forces in politics, but really, deep down, I may just have been too lazy to go.
I would like to say that I stopped going to Chick-Fil-A soon after I realized it was not a place I should choose to patronize. But it took a national boycott and revelations of political pressure and financial contributions to causes that go so far against my grain as to put me off even the tastiest of chicken sandwiches for me to draw the line. I am still having trouble reconciling the other mommies, whose politics are not in line with mine, with the facts that any future Chick-Fil-A pilgrimages will have to take place without my family. My son’s stomach complaints help, but they don’t remove the pressure altogether, especially when the five little girls whine for it in unison. I still love the chicken and the convenience. But, with the help of my turning stomach, I hope I can finally hold out.