What 5 ridiculous “woke food” boycotts can tell us about the GOP’s culture war
These days, it feels like at least once a week a mainstream company comes out with a new product or campaign that — because of how it’s packaged or advertised or has been modified — throws prominent conservative public figures into a tailspin because yet another American company has gone “woke.”
As Salon’s Amanda Marcotte pointed out in March, the GOP is “obsessed with ‘woke,’ but can’t define it.”
“That was hilariously demonstrated in a viral video clip of conservative author Bethany Mandel falling completely apart when asked in an interview to define ‘woke,’ a concept she wrote an entire book denouncing. Mandel couldn’t do it,” Marcotte wrote. “‘So, I mean, woke is sort of the idea that, um…’ she stammered before admitting it ‘is something that’s very hard to define,’ and then failing utterly to get close.”
But, as Marcotte wrote, this is a “feature, not a bug.” It can mean whatever Republicans want it to mean in the moment, which has led to some objectively ridiculous boycotts that didn’t really pan out as planned for the participants — especially in the world of food and drink.
For instance, remember in 2017 when fans of Sean Hannity destroyed their Keurig coffee machines after the company pulled its ads from Hannity’s Fox News program? As Zachary Petrizzo wrote for Salon, “Hannity tried to save the advertiser (and the valuable ad dollars) by giving away 500 Keurig machines, but it was too late. By the end of the boycott, an unknown number of Fox News viewers were just left with expensive coffee machines they had tossed off balconies or otherwise obliterated.”
Just a year prior, angry Breitbart readers flushed Kellogg’s cereal down toilets because the cereal company didn’t want to associate their brands with Breitbart News, whose former executive chairman was Steve Bannon.
But as silly and cyclical as conservatives’ constant declarations of a “culture war” feel (and they certainly are both silly and cyclical) these boycotts are most often driven by hateful rhetoric surrounding marginalized people and communities, as is the case with the latest call for a boycott against Bud Light beer, which is still simmering this week.
Here’s a breakdown of five recent conservative boycotts that tell us a lot about the ways in which members of the Republican party rely on fanning fears of ambiguous “wokeness” to make their constituents feel like they are under attack.
You’ve probably seen the video of Kid Rock tearfully shooting cases of Bud Light off a folding table in a field — but what you may not know is why exactly he punctuates said video with the sign-off, “F**k Bud Light and f**k Anheuser-Busch.”
While Rock doesn’t explain in the video, as Salon Food reported last week, the musician released the clip on Twitter after other other conservative public figures said the beer brand had become”woke” because of an Instagram partnership between the Bud Light and trans actress and activist Dylan Mulvaney.
The partnership itself was pretty minimal: Mulvaney posted a single photo in her Instagram grid featuring herself with a few cans of the beer, then in her Instagram stories, shared a photo of a can of Bud Light branded with her face.
It was a one-off promotional can sent to Mulvaney to celebrate the 365th day of her viral TikTok series “Days of Girlhood.” As reporter Miles Klee noted for Rolling Stone, this was a single can of beer featuring Mulvaney’s likeness “and it didn’t even appear on the grid: You had to look at her Instagram stories to see it.”
However, its existence prompted some vitriolic statements from prominent conservative figures. Fox News published an article describing how “many people mocked Bud Light over the partnership.”
In it, Fox shared statements made by conservative commentators, including John Cardillo, who wrote on Twitter, “Who the hell at @budlight thought it was a good idea to make a grown man who dresses like little girls their new spokesperson? Brands have to stop listening to their woke creative teams and get in touch with their consumer demographics.”
“Might genuinely be the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” The Spectator contributing editor Stephen Miller remarked. Townhall.com columnist Derek Hunter wrote: “@budlight: the groomer of beers.”
Along with Kid Rock, country musicians like Travis Tritt have decided to boycott Bud Light and its parent company, as well. As Salon Food reported, Country singer Travis Tritt announced that he would be banning Anheuser-Busch products from his tour hospitality rider, referring to the list of requests — including food and drink items — an artist provides to concert venues.
“I was on a tour sponsored by Budweiser in the 90’s. That was when Anheuser-Busch was American owned,” he wrote on Twitter. “A great American company that later sold out to the Europeans and became unrecognizable to the American consumer. Such a shame … Other artists who are deleting Anheuser-Busch products from their hospitality rider might not say so in public for fear of being ridiculed and cancelled. I have no such fear.”
However, for some Republicans, the boycott just isn’t really working out. For example, look at Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, attempted to boycott Bud Light — by filling his fridge with one of its parent company’s beers, a move that Instagram commenters classified as a “tremendous self-own.”
In January, less than two weeks into the New Year, Fox host Tucker Carlson gloomily announced that “woke M&M’s” had returned. You may remember that in January 2022 — a full year prior to Carlson’s most recent candy rant — he had dedicated an entire segment on his program to picking apart the revamped looks of the anthropomorphized M&M’s mascots.
As Brett Bachman wrote for Salon, the company released new packaging in which the brown M&M swapped out her signature stilettos for kitten heels, while the Green M&M’s go-go boots were replaced with white sneakers.The relatively benign changes were meant to promote “inclusivity” and bring the female-presenting characters in line with “current” trends that are more “representative of our consumer,” Anton Vincent, the company’s president, said.
That didn’t fly with Carlson, though, who attempted to connect “Mars’ decision to make its cartoons ‘less sexy’ to the decline of American society.”
“M&M’s will not be satisfied until every last cartoon character is deeply unappealing and totally androgynous, until the moment you wouldn’t want to have a drink with any one of them,” the Fox News said. “That’s the goal… When you’re totally turned off, we’ve achieved equity.”
A year later, M&M’s unveiled a new promotional wrapper featuring the three “female” candy characters, including the classic green and brown characters and the new purple peanut M&M. This is, again, where things start to feel cyclical because of course Carlson managed to find something threatening about the campaign.
“The green M&M got her boots back, but apparently is now a lesbian, maybe?” Carlson said in a “Tucker Carlson Tonight” segment, a reference to a viral 2015 tweet depicting the green and brown M&M holding hands that he’d ostensibly dug up for the occasion.
The caption on said tweet read: “It’s rare Ms. Brown and I get to spend time together without some colorful characters barging in.”
Carlson then turned his attention to the newest M&M character.”And there’s also a plus-sized, obese purple M&M,” he said. “So, we’re gonna cover that, of course.”
As Forbes reported, this prompted conservative influencer Nick Adams Adams to release “a weird video in which he emphasizes how disturbing the feminist M&Ms are, and calls for ‘a complete and total boycott of all things Mars.’ He also called for the same thing a few days ago for pregnant Joker, so these sternly-worded boycotts don’t seem to have much commitment behind them.”
“COOKIE!” Newsmax host Greg Kelly wrote on Twitter above a photo of Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster in April 2022. “I love COOKIES. C is for COOKIE. COOKIE IS FOR ME. I do NOT like GAY COOKIES. ‘Sexuality’ has NOTHING TO DO with the Cookie experience. Cookies are for ALL! Basically Cookies are ‘asexual’—why is the WOKE LEFT messing around with OREOS?!?! STOP THE INSANITY.”
This … statement was prompted by a video that had been released by Oreo a few days prior.
“The Note,” which was directed by Alice Wu (“Saving Face” and “The Half of It”), depicts a young Chinese-American man practicing a coming-out speech before a few close family members. Before the young man shares his truth with his grandmother, his mom slips him a note. “She might be my mother,” it reads, “but you are my son.”
The video ends with a message for viewers to pay it forward. “Coming out doesn’t happen just once,” it says. “Be a lifelong ally.”
It’s honestly a beautiful short film about an important part of the queer experience (and one that was refreshingly not released during Pride Month), but it prompted conservative public figures, including Kelly and Ben Shapiro, to call for a boycott against the cookie brand. At the time, Lila Rose, the founder of a movement dedicated to ending abortion, told Oreo to “stop sexualizing children.”
In August 2022, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store accidentally joined the culture war when they decided to add plant-based sausages to their menu. The company wrote in a Facebook post: “Discover new meat frontiers. Experience the out of this world flavor of Impossible™ Sausage Made From Plants next time you Build Your Own Breakfast.”
Note that I said “add” — the Impossible Sausage was not replacing the pork sausage on the menu, but its customers saw the change as a sign that the restaurant was caving to the whims of liberal vegans.
“We don’t eat in an old country store for woke burgers,” one commenter wrote, while someone else added: “I just lost respect for a once great Tennessee company.”
“Not going to happen!” another customer vowed. “Cracker Barrel use[d] to be so good, we looked forward to eating in them but not anymore.”
In April 2021, Donald Trump’s former legal advisor Jenna Ellis, distributed a statement from the former president on Twitter. It read: “It is finally time for Republicans and Conservatives to fight back—we have more people than they do—by far! Don’t go back to their products until they relent. We can play the game better than them.”
The tweet came after Georgia-based companies, including Delta Airlines, ViaComCBS and Coca Cola, spoke out against new restrictive voting legislation that would, among other things, criminalize bringing food and water to voters as they are waiting to cast ballots. At the time, prominent Republicans, including Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., characterized the situation as corporations allowing themselves to be bullied while “join[ing] in the bullying themselves.”
“From election law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government,” McConnell said in a statement.
This resulted in calls from conservatives, including Trump, to boycott the companies that had “gone woke” — though, as Salon Food reported back then, Trump’s own boycott was relatively short-lived. Within just a few days of making his public statement urging his constituents to not “go back to their products until they relent,” online sleuths spotted a Coca-Cola bottle on the president’s desk.
Two years later, he would reportedly be found drinking “non-stop Diet Cokes” in that same office “to avoid filming [the] video announcing he’d leave the White House.”
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