A new Athens environmental group is making headlines on conservative outlets like “Fox & Friends” and InfoWars because of its demand to remove Chick-fil-A from the University of Georgia’s Tate Center. Athens Earth Strike is urging the community to take immediate action against global warming by adopting its list of 12 demands, including banning Chick-fil-A.
The group, which came together in Athens last month, is a branch of the larger international organization Earth Strike, a grassroots movement demanding immediate climate action from governments and corporations.
AES is primarily made up of Athens-area activists and college students, particularly members of the Athens Young Democratic Socialists of America. By April, Valerie King, an AES organizer, says she hopes the organization has a fair mix of people, even across county lines. Overall, King says they have a total of five main organizers but closer to 50 members.
Part of the group’s mission is to name and shame businesses that “facilitate the destruction of our planet through corporate funding of politicians and manipulation of the media to promote fossil fuels, or lying to the public about the effects of climate change,” according to a Facebook post.
Athens Earth Strike is targeting Chick-fil-A for a list of issues that include the way its chickens are housed, its use of Styrofoam cups, use of peanut oil, its history of being anti-LGBTQ and that fact that many jobs in the dangerous and low-paying poultry industry are held by immigrants and other people of color.
“The poultry industry is central to our economy in Georgia,” King says. “Gainesville is the poultry capital of the world, and approximately one-ninth of the country’s chicken comes from Georgia.”
To begin, the group is demanding improved poultry farming conditions in Georgia. This includes the way the chickens are housed and “the environmental racism” within the industry. AES is arguing that the structures that house Chick-fil-A’s chickens are built unsustainably. Chick-fil-A says its chickens are raised cage-free and antibiotic-free in climate-controlled barns rather than crowded chicken houses, with access to food and water and protection from predators. But King says those barns are damaging to the environment because of the fossil fuels required to keep the buildings warm in the winter. “These things can be designed in such a way that they draw from sustainable energy, and it would take significantly less fossil fuels to do that,” King said.
The group is also calling out Chick-fil-A on its use of peanut oil to fry chicken. The restaurant is the single largest buyer of U.S. peanut oil and uses more than the entire nation of Japan, King says.
Hunter Hulett, an AES organizer, says the production of peanut oil releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. He also says the fertilizer from peanut farms runs off into streams and lakes, making the water more acidic, undrinkable and uninhabitable for fish and vegetation. As a result, the group is demanding an immediate end to government subsidies for Georgia’s peanut industry, as well as the cotton industry.
In addition, AES says Chick-fil-A needs to be banned because its packaging is unable to be recycled. “All their food is individually packaged,” King says. “It’s done in such a way that none of their products are recyclable,” because of Chick-fil-A’s trademark red on the packaging. “All of that is unable to be recycled,” she says. “Not even the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials here in Athens can recycle it.”
Then there’s Chick-fil-A’s plastic foam cups. “Those are really bad,” King says. “If you have a hot or acidic drink, then toxic chemicals can very easily leach into your drink if you’re using a Styrofoam cup.”
However, Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Director Suki Janssen and Recycling Coordinator Joe Dunlop say the CHaRM does accept plastic foam, and they’re not aware of any issues with the ink Chick-fil-A uses. “There are plenty of quick-serve restaurants that use non-recyclable packaging,” Dunlop says. “Probably most.” Chick-fil-A also promotes ways to upcycle its cups.
Some UGA students, like Lindsey Williams, say they can’t imagine UGA without a Chick-fil-A. “I don’t like that. I really like Chick-fil-A. I come here all the time,” Williams says. “I don’t see why we should ban them if [Chick-fil-A] is doing so good.”
But King says other campuses, such as Emory University, have ditched the Atlanta-based chain. Emory cut ties with Chick-fil-A in 2013 after CEO Dan Cathy’s statements against same-sex marriage caused a media firestorm.
Aside from banning Chick-fil-A, the group has 11 other demands. On the top of the list is a transition to 100 percent renewable energy in Athens by 2035. AES is working with 100% Athens, which is applying for funding in SPLOST 2020, an upcoming round of sales-tax-funded projects, to start working toward that goal. Mayor Kelly Girtz signed on to the 100% Athens effort last week.
Other demands include reducing food waste through donation programs; more green space; a program to foster biodiversity by creating deliberate natural habitats that cater to threatened or endangered species; limitations on construction in undeveloped areas; clothes recycling initiatives; a free or at-cost composting and recycling service; meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ideal health standards for water quality; and a published report detailing water and air quality for each county.
“Our demands are just generally good, cheap and efficient solutions to our problems,” King says.
The group is planning its first demonstration Apr. 27, starting at the UGA Arch. “We’re going to march towards [City Hall] so we can get the news coverage, so people can see what we’re demanding. We can see that a lot of people are supporting it… but we’re trying to get as much support as we can,” Hulett says. Future demonstrations will lead up to Earth Strike International’s general strike on Sept. 27.
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