Uncommonwealth: Chicken and politics have long been linked

ctruman@herald-leader.comAugust 6, 2012 

Col. Harland Sanders ate a piece of his famous chicken at Club 21 in New York in 1976.


Last week's national Chick-fil-A protest encouraged those who are against gay marriage to eat at the fast-food outlet, famous for its sandwich of fried chicken with a pickle.

Some say that politics and fast food should never be linked. But of course they are, and in foods that are famous for their Kentucky ties.

The most famous Kentucky food of all is Kentucky Fried Chicken, which for many years boasted the late Colonel Harland Sanders as its spokesman and still features his visage on its boxes.

Sanders started looking for franchisees for his famous chicken after he turned 65, financing it with part of his first Social Security check. He later sold his interest in the U.S. company to a group of investors including John Y. Brown Jr., later the Democratic governor of Kentucky.

For a satirical look at KFC, check out John Goodman's portrayal of the colonel (a Kentucky colonel, actually) in the Funny or Die fictional video. It features a possible pro-gay commercial the Colonel might make if he were still alive. It's strictly for the 18-and-older crowd and can be found at http://bit.ly/M3EJAF.

But the raunchy video is not KFC's first foray into politics and its relative benefits and losses. KFC expanded rapidly into Mexico in the 1990s after government changes made it easier for foreign corporations to buy real estate and recover royalty payments. The North American Free Trade Agreement, a source of debate in its time, cut the tariffs on imported supplies, easing the way.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has long been at war with the chicken company over its treatment of the birds, in particular during the 2008 Kentucky General Assembly session, when a bill proposed making KFC Original Recipe fried chicken Kentucky's "official picnic food."

PETA countered by describing KFC-bound chickens as "debeaked, crippled, scalded, diseased, dead chicken."

The bill died in committee.

Sanders, who died in 1980, has long been the target of rumors, now given eternal life via the Internet, alleging that he gave money to the Ku Klux Klan or helped change Kentucky Fried Chicken's corporate identity to KFC to avoid a supposed contractual obligation to feed the poor for free. Neither is true. Both have been debunked on the urban myth site Snopes.com.

And what about Yum, the Louisville-based parent company of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC?

In 2004, a list emerged of the 40 companies and foundation that had given $6 million to a University of Louisville academic center named after U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. Among them: $250,000 from Yum over five years. A spokesman said that the company wanted to help children in need.

Truitt Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, came to Lexington in 2004 to speak before the Christian Business Men's Committee. "I want to thank you for not serving Kentucky Fried Chicken," he told the group.

Cathy said he once bought lunch at Chick-fil-A for Sanders and asked him if it was the best chicken he ever ate.

"Second-best," Sanders said.

Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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