Chicken Consciousness: A Matter of Chicken or Wages | Sojourners

Chicken Consciousness: A Matter of Chicken or Wages

“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” This age-old debate pales in comparison to the debate that recently took social media by storm: “Who has the better chicken sandwich, Popeyes or Chick-fil-A?”

Chicken is one of America’s few foods consumed by most regardless of economic status. Whether it’s baked, fried, turned into strips, nuggets, or a sandwich, persons possess favorites, including preferred locations and select cooks. When it comes to fast food, people argue over who has the better bread, milkshakes, fries, or strongest Sprite. Yet, this time, two popular fast food franchises, with two distinct identities and even politics, captivated the attention of millions.

Chick-fil-A is known for its classic sandwich inclusive of a well fried chicken breast and pickle between two buns. However, Popeye’s partnered with Sweet Dixie Kitchen creating a sandwich made with “a fried chicken filet, sour pickles, and mayo on a brioche bun.” Two parallels in relation to ingredients, taste, and presentation.

While the sandwiches are distinct, one item dominated the conversation beyond taste: customer service. Chick-fil-A, a Georgia-based franchise with “southern charm” flair, differs greatly from the Louisiana/New Orleans-inspired Popeye’s franchise. One is known for its cow commercials and visible presence across major entertainment platforms, while the other is celebrated for its simplicity and sparking memories of childhood as one bites into a piece of fried chicken or a perfectly baked biscuit.

Like many across social media, my colleagues and friends reiterated the difference that employees saying “ my pleasure” makes, even impacting the taste. Yet, nestled away was the lack of concern about the employees preparing said sandwich, their hours, and compensation. This caused me to ask the question, “Who’s concerned about the wage of the worker?” The debate over the sandwiches seemed to be the perfect display of American consumption.

The current government mandated minimum wage is an insulting $7.25 an hour, and this does not factor in taxes, social security, and Medicaid that may or may not be extracted from biweekly or monthly paychecks. According to one source, “Hourly pay at Popeye's ranges from an average of $7.36 to $12.26 an hour.”

Whether single or married, with or without children, one cannot reasonably survive on such means. The mistreatment of laborers is not uncommon or a new phenomenon. The practice of free and cheap labor dates back to the inception of American colonization inclusive of slavery, indentured servant labor, child workforce labor, and the commodification of women during world wars. Fast forward to the stifled minimum federal wage met by an even more demeaning state minimum wage in some instances, and immigrant labor absent of pay, benefits, and the hopeful obtainment of full citizenship. As harsh a reality this may be for some to accept, inadequate wages and work conditions continue to cripple the majority of America’s workforce.

One image that hasn’t left my memory throughout this chicken sandwich phenomenon was the exasperated stances of the hundreds of Popeye’s employees working under strenuous conditions with the massive demand of customers. Throughout social media, pictures and videos flooded timelines of Facebook and Twitter as customers lashed out insults, spewed vulgar epitaphs, and captured sights of some sitting outside just trying to catch their breath displaying the insanity of the moment. This led to some pleading for customers to possess empathy for employees just trying to do their jobs amid undesirable work conditions and consumer demand.

According to a journalist at Vox:

Wanda Lavender, a 38-year-old Popeyes manager, told me she doesn’t get paid enough to deal with all the customers who lined up for sandwiches this past week. She earns $10 an hour managing a Popeyes in Milwaukee. She told me her legs are still numb from standing for 10 to 12 hours a day — she had to spend her birthday making chicken sandwiches instead of taking the day off. One of her employees quit. An angry customer even threatened to shoot her staff.

Accounts like these should not exist in the world’s richest nation that claims to be the home of a dream attainable to all.

The time is over for dense partisan debates regarding states and federal government positions. Instead, a holistic effort to reform and reimagine access, pay, wages, and wealth must occur in our country. Otherwise, the trend will continue: the rich get richer as the poor get poorer and the words of Christ will remain, “For you always have the poor with you.”

What a sad indictment upon a nation.

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