Colin McEnroe: Maybe it’s time to boycott the boycotts
One company I have been boycotting very successfully over the years is Hobby Lobby. My memory isn’t what it used to be, but I know they were involved in some kind of Supreme Court case that I would have been on the other side of, so I never go to Hobby Lobby.
Also, I don’t have any hobbies; I don’t know where the nearest (or farthest) Hobby Lobby store is; and I’m not even sure what they sell. But if you told me to run over to the Hobby Lobby and pick up some ... glue? They must sell glue, right? Anyway, I would refuse on principle.
My 100 percent Hobby Lobby boycott, while ferocious, is also a cheap date with my conscience.
In the case of New Balance sneakers, it’s more complicated. Their founder contributed $395,000 to a Trump-supporting PAC, and another NB executive made Trump-positive comments after the election.
I object to Donald Trump on every conceivable basis, so no way am I wearing any New Balance sneakers, except I’ve bought two pairs of them since the election. They fit. Also, if you think there’s something good about making things in the United States, New Balance employs about 7,000 people here to make 4 millions pairs of sneakers. But mainly, they fit.
Department of Irony: New Balance seemed mainly to like Trump’s ideas about trade. Now they’re upset because their plans for a new factory in this country are endangered by Trump’s idiotic ideas about tariffs. (You might think protectionist tariffs would help, not hurt, but NB needs to bring in manufacturing equipment.)
OK, so pizza. Last week director Ron Howard ate at Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria on Wooster Square in New Haven. Scant days later, a social media controversy erupted over the political leanings of part-owner Gary Bimonte, who was shown holding a “Deplorables for Trump” sign. Bimonte is one of a large flock of Frank Pepe’s grandchildren involved in running the multiple locations, but he is indisputably the public face of Pepe’s.
There’s a boycott campaign on Facebook. I have mixed feelings. Did I mention that I consider Trump to be an unscrupulous nut case? But maybe it’s a good thing if staunch supporters of the Democratic Party like Howard, Henry Winkler and, back in the day, Robin Williams, drop by at Pepe’s and break crust with an unapologetic Deplorable.
And I say this as somebody who (a) usually goes to Modern because it’s so much easier and (b) fully intends, at the next opportunity, to visit Wooster Street and eat at Zeneli’s, a new pizza joint opened by four Albanian brothers, Aleko, Jeshar, Jetmir and Gazmir.
Do I know Jeshar’s position on the policies of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama? I do not. (I also do not know my own position on them.) I do know that Albania holds restauranteurs to high standards. One restaurant owner recently caused a viral sensation by flipping out at a group of Spanish tourists and even punching in their windshield. The Albanian government looked into him and, finding some permit and tax issues as well ... bulldozed his restaurant. Yikes.
The politics of things we put into our mouths feel a little more personal than the things we put on our feet. But less rational. If you really like eating a certain thing, powerful pleasure-seeking sectors of your brain may very well start to riot.
It’s why, if you told me, “Chick-fil-A is one of the very few things my kid will eat, and at least once a week, coming off a 10-hour shift, I just cave and take her there, even though I detest their stance on LGBT issues,” I would say: forgive yourself.
Long is the struggle, hard the fight, as the song says. It probably will be not won or lost over a handful of chicken sandwiches. Even Pete Buttigieg, who has the best chance in history to become the openly gay president of the United States, said of the chain and its owners, “I do not approve of their politics, but I kind of approve of their chicken.”
Speaking of which, even as Pepe’s stumbled into the political battle this week, there were chicken sandwich wars on social media as Popeye’s launched what the New Yorker called “the first serious challenge to the chicken-on-a-bun hegemony of Chick-fil-A.” The two chains and their adherents trolled each other all week, with Wendy’s jumping into the fray as well.
So you have options now. Chick-fil-A’s politics appear to be driven by the fervent religious beliefs of its owners, the Cathy family, which subscribes to a narrow interpretation of the Bible. But you could argue that their attitudes are underscored by principles, just not the principles you and I hold.
And when you get right down to it, the national boycott of Chick-fil-A, years old and fervently embraced by many people I know, has resulted in the chain actually moving up in the rankings to become, by some metrics, the third largest fast food chain in America and the most profitable per location.
The only fried chicken sandwich I have ever consumed is from a food truck called Munchies. It’s very good, and I have almost never passed up an opportunity to have one. I have no idea what the people inside the truck think about Denmark, Zionism, gun control or immigration.
I also don’t know these things about Cara, who gave me a nice haircut last week in New Haven, or Claude, who fixes my car. I don’t want to. This is a large, obstreperous nation. We’re going to have to find a way to live and eat and walk together without needing to cancel each other.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have tickets to tonight’s Connecticut Tigers minor league baseball game in Norwich.
There are reports that the owner of the Tigers is chairman of an anti-Muslim hate group. OK, that sounds pretty bad. Maybe I’ll just stay home.
Colin McEnroe’s column appears every Sunday, his newsletter comes out every Thursday and you can hear his radio show every weekday on WNPR 90.5. Email him at email@example.com. Sign up for his newsletter at http://bit.ly/colinmcenroe.