Take Hate off the Plate

A renowned chef (and fried-chicken fan) responds to Chick-fil-A's opposition to gay marriage

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Phil Skinner / Atlanta Journal-Constitution / AP

Jim Fortier, left, and Mark Toomajian kiss as they join gay-rights activists and others protesting outside a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Decatur, Ga., on Aug. 3, 2012

Recently, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy had some unkind things to say about gay families, and a lot of people (present company included) didn’t care for his comments one bit. That shouldn’t surprise you: I’m a gay man, I’m married, I’m from the South — raised in a Southern Baptist family — and I’m a chef. So an Atlanta-based fast-food baron talking about how he understands the Bible enough to say that my life and marriage aren’t legitimate doesn’t sit well with me.

A lot troubles me about this debate, but beyond the cherry-picking of Scripture to reinforce bigotry or the message that hateful rhetoric sends to young LGBT kids, there’s an element of this discussion that cuts away at a something I’ve held dear my whole life: the ability of food to bring people together. It’s a sad state when “comfort food” tears communities apart, making so many people feel attacked and unwanted.

(MORE: Josh Ozersky’s Chick-fil-A Mea Culpa: I Have Changed My Mind)

Here’s perhaps what makes me the most uncomfortable: Mr. Cathy owns more than 1,500 restaurants and serves up far more fried chicken than I do in my four. But I’ll say this: no matter how big the kitchen or seasoned the chef, hate has no place on America’s plates. Food is meant to be made with love, and that’s something I have understood since before I could reach the stove.

My earliest memory of this quintessential Southern comfort food is of being a young child, watching my African-American nanny, Leila Curry, making her buttermilk fried chicken for us. She taught me not only how to make her chicken, but she also taught me — long before I ever knew I would need to — how to stand up to prejudice. It was the 1960s and racism was rampant in the South. When I saw race riots on the TV and asked her what was going on, she would tell me, “Honey, people just need to love each other.” During those days in the kitchen with her, Leila was the first person in my life who really taught me about the power of love over hate. To me, cooking was love and the kitchen is where I learned about equality.

When I was bullied as a teen, Leila, along with my grandmother and mother, tried to protect me from a world that was unfriendly to gay people. The words of Mr. Cathy remind me of the pain I felt that drove me to escape a small Southern town and find a place where I would be welcomed.

(MORE: Chick-fil-A to Amazon: Why Companies Take a Social Stand)

The wisdom of those savvy Southern women rang even more true as I grew as a chef. I’ve fried up my chicken for Republicans and Democrats, cooked for the Bushes, the Clintons and the Obamas. Leila’s words were right: good food (and yes, especially fried chicken) takes no sides. It’s a celebratory meal, one for special occasions. (Believe me, I didn’t lose 120 lb. by eating fried chicken every day.) Done right and served with love, it will make even the fussiest calorie-counting crowd melt like butter on a hot biscuit. I proved that myself when I served fried chicken to hundreds of guests at Oprah Winfrey’s 50th birthday party.

Being Ms. Winfrey’s chef opened a lot of doors for me, but none more important than a hospital door. While so many gay couples in America are denied basic rights like hospital visitation, I was able to visit my future husband, Jesus Salgueiro, when he was undergoing his third round of cancer treatment. It’s sad to think that in so many parts of this country, you’ve got to know Oprah to see your soul mate in a hospital.

With the good fortune my cooking has brought us, we have tried to do good in the world. Jesus and I founded Common Threads, a nonprofit group that teaches kids in low-income communities how to prepare healthy and delicious food. We also share with them what my mother and Leila taught me: to love and respect others. I can’t tell Mr. Cathy his business, but I’d like to suggest that he take the hate off the plate.

Marriage equality is happening and anti-equality legislation will soon be written only in the history books along with Jim Crow laws. The work we do now is cooking up a more just, loving world for the next generation, a generation that embraces two of the most important things in my life — marriage equality and great food — and there’s no room for hate in either.

MORE: Jon Meacham: God and Gays

125 comments
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Lvcas
Lvcas

Good article. I'm writing from Argentina, one of the eleven countries in the world, where Same Sex Marriage is Legal. 

John Jay Foster
John Jay Foster

To every gay person out there, to every person who has a gay relative, to every person who has a gay friend....if your vote on Marriage Equality as Cathy would vote....your vote is against yourself, and/or your family, and/or your friend. People can talk high and mighty all day long, quoting scripture (scripture translated over and over too many times to count by people with vested interest) out of context until the cows come home....but what they are really saying is that gay people....are pieces of shi!@$.....these people won't say it to your face but deep down they believe gays are worthless and don't deserve the same chance at happiness that they enjoy. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anyone who should be guaranteed   happiness, but an essential element of this great Country of ours allows the pursuit.....the pursuit of happiness is what defines America. What have you got to look forward to when your in 4th grade, you know your gay and you hear day after day that you will never be able to get married to someone you love....you feel like you've been robbed....of the American Dream before you have even begun to live.  Mr. Cathy is a Southerner I hear, although not one I would care representing the majority in Dixie, so i wonder if hes ever seen "To Kill a Mockingbird".....what was it that Atticus said to Scout on the front porch that night....something about never really knowing a man until you walked around in his shoes. Well Mr. Cathy you could learn a lot from Atticus Finch. Some people need to walk around a little in another person's shoes before they arrogantly spout their mouths off to the world. Free speech is a wonderful thing but if you use your position of influence and power to increase hatred of people then everything good you have done up until now means nothing.

sherry fowler
sherry fowler

The "American Dream" is usually used to reference home ownership, sometimes prosperity. Its not used as a synonym for marriage of any type,its quite possible to get married in many other countries besides this one, so it does not make sense to refer to  marriage as "The American Dream". Next, the last sentence of your post sums it all up for those who refuse to see the issue as it really is:" Free speech is a wonderful thing as long as you say what I want you to. It becomes a problem for me when you dont agree with what I want you to say." You're not going to get anywhere with that argument.

fognon
fognon

Ate at chick fil a today.. Was packed as usual. Election day preview?

Glen Fiddich
Glen Fiddich

 Interesting.  I drove by CFA about 25 minutes ago.  I saw 7 people inside, and no cars in the drive through.

Go figure.

Chiku Misra
Chiku Misra

it has nothing to do with cfa, the author's marriage is not legitimate because it is retarded.  marriage is between a man and a woman.  you can dress a pig up, put lipstick and fancy clothes on it, but it's still a pig.  that's not bigoted, just historically true for thousands of years.  gays can do whatever they want, just do it quietly and without so much fanfare, because contrary to what they think, the nation and world are actually not transfixed on them and their lives. 

Glen Fiddich
Glen Fiddich

 There are several states -- and there will be many more! -- in which the author's marriage IS legitimate.  You speak of pigs.  My impression is you have direct personal experience with pigs.

sherry fowler
sherry fowler

Which means nothing in reality, since the author's marriage is not recognized under Federal Law anywhere in the country.

Glen Fiddich
Glen Fiddich

50% of straight first marriages end in divorce; 67% of straight second marriages end in divorce; 74% of straight third marriages end in divorce.

By their own behavior, straights have proven that "tradiitonal"

marriage is unnatural.  "Straighten" up people!  If you keep dissolving

your marriages, nobody will be having babies.  And since you breeders

are the ones who replenish the world's supply of gay people, we're

counting on you!

Straight divorce is an act of genocide against gays!  HATE!  HATE!  HATE!

Brian Koppenhaver
Brian Koppenhaver

YOur  a  liar   mr Smith  he  did  not  say  anything  unkind  ,seems  your  the  narrow  minded  bigot   in  this  case

carrotcakeman
carrotcakeman

The anti-gay owner aids and abets vote fraud.  He knows these MILLIONS he "donates" annually to anti-gay Hate Cults is used to throw elections.  Anti-gays pretend they don't know about that.

Glen Fiddich
Glen Fiddich

 The christer hate cult has been pretending it doesn't know, and that its hands are clean, for about 2000 years.

js30327
js30327

When Mr. Cathy gives money to groups that not only are anti-gay but actually spent money to lobby against stopping the Uganda Kill the Gays, as well as numerous other hate actions....it goes far beyond free speech....as one poster said, he has the right to say whatever he wants and to give his money to whomever he wants, but everyone should know just where a fraction of their purchase ends up....I could care less what he says...he is entitled to his free speech, but when his donations float down to pure hate groups like this, all in the name of family values, then I for one will spek up...not in hate, but so that everyone knows the truth

sherry fowler
sherry fowler

Its good that you could care less what he SAYS, now how about working on where he donates his own money? Both Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan said: "Just because you like my stuff doesn't mean you can have it. Get a job and buy your own stuff." You dont get to decide for the owner of Chik Fil A where his money gets donated and to whom--donate your own.

xTweaKy
xTweaKy

it isnt about grammar, its about you being wrong.

xTweaKy
xTweaKy

I LIKE TO USE CAPITAL LETTERS TO PROVE MY POINT, TOO!

xTweaKy
xTweaKy

youre so far deluded, i almost feel bad for you.

xTweaKy
xTweaKy

BRILLIANT! mr fiddich id like to buy you a beer my good sir

Glen Fiddich
Glen Fiddich

 Thanks...too many carbs!  But a scotch and soda would be great!

xTweaKy
xTweaKy

i seem to be seeing quite a bit of you maddie!

i rescind my statement and stand corrected. see that? i took the higher road and accepted my mistake. am i still a liberal who cant argue like an adult?