I was once quite the fan of Chick-fil-A. As a boy, it was certainly my favorite fast food place and possibly my overall favorite restaurant. When I lived in Austin, my family frequented one particular location, and I became pretty well-known among the staff there. There was hardly a kid more enthusiastic about a chicken-focused fast food restaurant than I.
These days, I’m not a frequent patron of the chain, though I suppose they’re slightly more friendly to my diet than some other fast food places are (lookin’ at you, McDonald’s).
One thing that’s really struck me about Chick-fil-A since I stopped eating meat is their marketing. The use of cows to present a catchphrase of “Eat Mor Chikin” is a rather dark piece of gallows humor. The implication, of course, is that the cows want you to eat chickens so that you’re not eating cattle.
I think everyone understands this on the surface level, but let’s explore this a bit deeper, shall we? The scenario we are presented with is that cows are encouraging us to go eat chicken. Presumably, the series of events that led up to this event looked something like this:
First, the cows recognized the imminent existential danger of their own situation (or at least their brethren’s situation): humans are raising cattle for the express purpose of killing and eating them. Horrified, these cows realize they must develop a strategy to save the lives of the cattle in danger. These (obviously sentient and language-capable) cows decide that pleading for the lives of their people will not work. Apparently, humans are simply too eager to devour flesh for that to be a viable strategy. Instead, the cows decide, they must attempt to redirect the humans’ insatiable desire to kill towards chickens. In order to avoid human wrath, they decide on encouraging us to “Eat Mor Chikin” (obviously misspelled on purpose as a ploy to earn our sympathy, as cows intelligent enough to understand human written language are surely smart enough to spell correctly), rather than a more direct plea to, for example, “Eat Less Beef”. They want us to trade our hamburgers for chicken sandwiches, and desperately hope that this will mitigate the tsunami of daily cattle slaughter (nearly 100,000 every day in the U.S.). The cows might acknowledge amongst themselves that the chickens are getting the raw end of this deal, but they proceed nonetheless, because, hey, “better them than us”, right? Someone has to sate the human bloodlust.
This is a rather desperate and dystopian position for the cows, don’t you think? I know it’s supposed to be cute and that Chick-fil-A plays it for laughs, but wow, there are some seriously depressing implications there. And, in my opinion, it gets worse. For one thing, the cows’ strategy doesn’t seem to even work. Most people who eat chickens also eat cattle. It’s perfectly possible for a person to have lunch at Chick-fil-A and a steak dinner later that day.
Secondly, the cows in the ads are still not in a great position if people are eating at Chick-fil-A instead of getting burgers. The cows that appear in Chick-fil-A ads are not beef cattle, raised to be slaughtered and turned into food. They’re Holstein dairy cows. Dairy cows, in case you didn’t know, are forcibly impregnated before they can reach their second birthday via artificial insemination. When they give birth, they are separated from their calves (a traumatic practice that appears to lack scientific backing), milked until their milk production slows significantly, and then the whole process is repeated. Male calves are either sold off or killed (this article hilariously refers to an “ethical dairy farm” which sells off its male calves to veal producers). The life of a dairy cow is unenviable, so it’s striking that cows of a dairy-producing breed would advertise for Chick-fil-A, with its ice cream and milkshakes and sauces that contain dairy. Are they simply resigned to their own fate? Have they struck a deal with Chick-fil-A to spare themselves at the expense of their fellow dairy cows? The possibilities are unpleasant to think about.
Of course, as I said above, despite the dystopian implications of this marketing campaign, Chick-fil-A is not trying to make some kind of satirical commentary about the horrors of the animal agriculture industry they rely on for their business. They’re playing it for laughs. You’re supposed to understand why the cows want you to be eating chicken. It’s supposed to be funny that these cows are, essentially, pleading for their lives. It’s like if you were kidnapped by a psychopath who said he would torture and kill you, and you told him, “Maybe you should consider torturing and killing someone else instead of doing that to me.” It’s a real contrast from other brands that absurdly advertise with happy animals selling their own meat, but still equally (or perhaps even more) disturbing.
If you’re interested in animal rights, there is plenty of literature available on the topic. You can also learn more on The Humane League’s website (THL is also a charity that you can donate to if you want to support their cause). If you’re interested in learning more about the horrors of the dairy industry, Sentient Media has a very good article on the topic.