Food Fight

Commentary: Stonewall Baby

During my wild ”pescetarian” days of no meat nor chicken, I refused to eat at McDonald’s. My boycott was based upon the notorious ”McLibel” suit in Britain, which pitted two lowly vegetarians against the giant corporation, and reading Jeremy Rifkin’s Beyond Beef, which made any company with a business model dependent upon factory-farmed cattle wholly unpalatable, indeed. With my youthful passion long since dead, I’ll eat the occasional McDonald’s cheeseburger, but the concerns of an aging body have done nearly as well at keeping me away from those tempting golden arches.

A new boycott of McDonald’s has taken me by surprise.

”The American Family Association has asked for a boycott of McDonald’s restaurants because of the company’s promotion of the gay agenda. AFA asked McDonald’s to remain neutral in the culture war. McDonald’s refused.”

That quote, from AFA’s founder and chairman, Donald Wildmon, is his group’s response to, primarily, McDonald’s support for the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. A secondary concern is likely Grimace’s lavender visage, or maybe it’s the tinkering with Happy Meals to offer fruit in place of fries. ”Whose idea was that?” Wildmon may wonder. ”Sounds a little ‘San Francisco’ if you ask me. Harumph.”

Whatever Wildmon’s thinking, there’s no doubt he’s got wood for boycotts. After all, he implies heavily that the AFA’s 2006 boycott against Ford Motor Company for cozying up to gay consumers cost Ford dearly.

This new boycott got me thinking about the nature of the action and my responsibility as a dutiful consumer. Is the enemy of my enemy — McDonald’s in this case — now my friend? Merriam-Webster tells me the term is so named for Charles Boycott, an English landlord who gouged his Irish tenants on rent. So, by virtue of my half-Irish heredity, maybe this boycotting business is in my blood. By definition, however, my actions alone don’t constitute a boycott, which must be a concerted effort. Nevertheless, as I look at my own actions, I find there are plenty of companies, and others, who bear the brunt of my refusal to do business.

The other half of my heredity is Swiss. So is the gigantic food company, Nestlé. I’ve avoided Nestlé for years because of that company’s baby-formula practices. I’ve read that’s all been taken care of. I’ve also read it hasn’t. The point, however, is that while I thought I was avoiding Nestlé — out of habit, rather than anything political, really — I was happily buying bottles of Perrier at my local Au Bon Pain. Who knew it was made by Nestlé? I suppose that’s irrelevant, now, as I’ve just added ABP to my no-buy list. The stores’ notoriously sub-par functionality finally got to me after I purchased a wrap that had been sitting in a pawed-through soup of ice water. Surely they must be wrapping these things to a waterproof degree. Sadly, no. It makes me wish there was a Cosi near my office. Then again, I’ve been refusing them my business for five years, following a horrible customer-service experience and no reply from Cosi headquarters to my e-mail regarding same.

I’d hoped to boycott the Nationals out of my loyalty to the gay clubs razed for their stadium. Little did I know that I have so many gay pals who are Nationals fans. My peers just think I’m being an uptight asshole if I try to stick to those guns, and I just like my friends too much to maintain my integrity.

Stolichnaya vodka, as my only Russian consumable, was in my sights as punishment for the mayor of Moscow’s savagely homophobic statements about organizers of that city’s gay-pride efforts. But Stoli was prepared for Michael Petrelis’ pouring its delicious liquid down the gutters of San Francisco, armed with a series sponsorship on Logo.

At the other end of my internal policy debate, there are those I support when possible. I buy Lurpak butter, for example. This Danish company suffered a butter boycott in the wake of the Muhammed cartoons in Danish papers. Ali Al-Mousa, writing to the Arab News at the time — 2006 — called for more action. Do not just boycott butter, he implored.

”All Muslim countries should call upon their Danish ambassadors to tell the one thing only: To stop this mess in one week or else go home,” he wrote, in part. ”The decision should be united in all Muslim countries and not the decision of one country. We do not need to use the language of diplomacy.” Oy.

Al-Mousa and Wildmon may be kindred spirits. Maybe Petrelis is in the mix, too. But the business of boycotts, amid lessening community, must be a losing proposition. When the gay community acted against the Florida Citrus Commission in the late 1970s for choosing the female face of homophobia, Anita Bryant, to hawk orange juice, the boycott seemed to do more in uniting the gay community than in forcing the commission to hire a less offensive spokesperson.

That community is good to have, but it’s less homogenous by the second as technology allows us each to operate with ever-greater independence. Besides, I don’t want to ”vote with my dollars,” because in that sort of arena there will always be others with far more ”votes” than I. I prefer voting in a booth and having access to political leaders. I choose where to spend for the impact on my wellbeing, not Nestlé’s. But if boycotting McDonald’s makes Wildmon feel good, then rock on, Don. That good feeling is likely all you’re going to get.

Will O’Bryan, Metro Weekly‘s managing editor, was born as the Stonewall Riots ended, making him a Stonewall Baby, he insists. He can be reached at wobryan@metroweekly.com.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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