What does getting a quick bite to eat say about your beliefs, political alignment, and code of ethics? Hopefully, not much. But more and more, as suspect business practices are exposed and controversial views are publicized, we need to take a look at where we stand in our involvement with different companies. The other day, as I was walking in the mall with my brother, I seriously considered this dilemma. I casually suggested we stop at Chick-Fil-A for some fries and a lemonade; he immediately shut me down, citing the news of the owner’s denouncement of gay marriage, a story that had circulated a couple years back. To be honest, I had forgotten about that and I’d eaten there repeatedly during those years. He had decided to boycott the restaurant chain entirely, but I was less convinced.
Did my choice really hold any weight? Could I really affect the owner I wanted to hurt? I didn’t see how someone not buying a chicken sandwich could at all combat homophobia. I was doubtful that my purchasing behavior would take a toll on already wildly rich and successful man. On top of that, wouldn’t impact on the business first reach employees at a lower paygrade? What if, in trying to take down a homophobic corporation we cause the unemployment of a gay person who is already disrespected and ostracized by their place of work? This got me thinking about how useless consumer activism can sometimes feel.
I had already experienced this feeling of futility. When I heard Nestle had been bottling water in California in their time of drought, I decided to attempt a boycott of their products. It went well, until I realized that their dog food, kitchen equipment, and bullion cubes were already sitting in my house. This just repeated itself a month or so down the road, when I heard that Unilever was dumping waste in the water supply of poorer areas in India. I tried to stop my use of this company, until I learned how much I relied on their products every day. I finally found that these boycotts were unrealistic. Yes, most big corporations have methods I would never agree with. Still, I’m sure that is the case with most of the businesses I buy from every day. Who am I to tamper with industry?
I didn’t have an answer for my issues with all these groups, but I did have an answer for my brother. We didn’t go to eat at Chic-Fil-A then, and I haven't eaten there since. I decided that buying-behavior activism is all in perspective. I may not be doing much to the corporation, but I can’t expect to. If I choose to not eat at a restaurant, I’m making that decision based off of my personal opinion on the owner, not because I expect to make change. And that’s okay with me. I’ll do my part, and when people ask, I’ll tell them: if it’s difficult to stomach, let it go.