Submitted for your approval: a tale of what happens when the most innocuous of creatures, chickens and cows, conspire with Christians to infiltrate New York City. It’s a tale of surprise, bizarre plot twists, and utter horror. Sit back and read The New Yorker as we explore Chick-fil-A in–The Twilight Zone.
New York has taken to Chick-fil-A. One of the Manhattan locations estimates that it sells a sandwich every six seconds, and the company has announced plans to open as many as a dozen more storefronts in the city. And yet the brand’s arrival here feels like an infiltration, in no small part because of its pervasive Christian traditionalism.
The horror! What does Chick-fil-A do? Forced bun conversions? Confession at chicken strip point before forking over delicious chicken sandwiches? Roving missionaries in the play area? Serving only holy water?
I noticed that word—community—scattered everywhere in the Fulton Street restaurant. A shelf of children’s books bears a plaque testifying to ‘our love for this local community.’ The tables are made of reclaimed wood, which creates, according to a Chick-fil-A press release, ‘an inviting space to build community.’ A blackboard with the header ‘Our Community’ displays a chalk drawing of the city skyline. Outside, you can glimpse an earlier iteration of that skyline on the building’s façade, which, with two tall, imperious rectangles jutting out, ‘gives a subtle impression of the Twin Towers.
The terror this must visit on unsuspecting New Yorkers is almost impossible to imagine.
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. David Farmer, Chick-fil-A’s vice-president of restaurant experience, told BuzzFeed that he strives for a ‘pit crew efficiency, but where you feel like you just got hugged in the process.’ That contradiction, industrial but claustral, is at the heart of the new restaurant—and of Chick-fil-A’s entire brand. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Cows.
It’s mind-bending to imagine a company that provides fast, efficient and friendly service. What could such people possibly be thinking? What evil lurks behind those Christian smiles? There’s a contradiction between efficiency and treating people well? An industrial and claustral contradiction? Well, this is the Twilight Zone… Proselytism? And there is evidence of that where, exactly? Hiding among the waffle fries? And the cows clarify the contradiction?
It’s impossible to overstate the role of the Cows—in official communiqués, they always take a capital ‘C’—that 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.
Chick-fil-A restaurants are megachurches, and cows are evangelists? “The gospel of chicken”? Talk about tortured metaphors…
Cathy died a billionaire, in 2014, but the ‘eat mor chikin’ mantra has survived. Though the Cows have never bothered to improve their spelling, franchises still hold an annual Cow Appreciation Day, offering free food to anyone dressed as a Cow. Employees dance around in Cow suits. The company’s advertising manager doubles as its ‘Cow czar.’ The Cows have their own calendar. (This year’s theme is ‘Steers of Yesteryear.’) They’ve been inducted into the Madison Avenue Walk of Fame, and their Facebook following is approaching seven figures.
“The cows have never bothered to improve their spelling”?! Uh, they’re fictional cows, and it’s funny, because cows can’t write, let alone spell, and they’re cows. They don’t worry about spelling. But THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!!!!!!
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.
You see, gentle readers, there’s the horror. A friendly, efficient, pleasant fast food chain with delicious food moves to New York City, and provides great food people like at more than reasonable prices. You can see the writhing evil, the soul-sucking terror, can’t you? Can’t you just feel the, the, the… CHRISTIANITY!?
Defenders of Chick-fil-A point out that the company donates thousands of pounds of food to New York Common Pantry, and that its expansion creates jobs. 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.
We’re almost at the plot twist, gentle readers. We’ve been bombarded with cleanliness, friendliness, healthier food, generosity, more jobs, pleasant décor, all adding up to…SUBURBAN PIETY!!!!!
New Yorkers are under no obligation to repeat what they say. Enough, we can tell them. NO MOR.
And it’s all the fault of “pervasive Christian traditionalism. These, gentle readers, are the sophisticated people for whom the author of The New Yorker piece, one Dan Piepenbring, writes. The people who imagine themselves more intellectual and moral than Christian traditionalists who like Chick-fil-A. These are the people whose hatred of the God and gun clingers of Flyover Country so damages them they cannot admit what millions of New Yorkers know: Chick-fil-A makes delicious, inexpensive food, and eating there is a comforting, relaxing experience. Oh yes, and cows are funny. That’s the horror of Christian traditionalism.