Kentucky Fried Chicken has been on a controversial roll lately. Last week, it announced that it would be launching a "Buckets for the Cure" campaign in association with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which means the next time you pick up some of the Colonel's chicken, don't be surprised when it comes in a bright pink pail.
KFC went so far as to paint one of it's Louisville, KY locations hot pink for promotion.
But the the campaign has many crying foul.
Among the critics is a rival breast cancer group called Breast Cancer Action. They're accusing KFC of "pinkwashing" — that's a term they coined back in 2003 for companies who associate themselves to the breast cancer awareness cause while manufacturing products that are linked to the disease. Breast Cancer Action's "Think Before You Pink" website even encourages people to rally against "Buckets of the Cure."
Barbara Brenner, a breast cancer survivor and executive director of Breast Cancer Action, told Shots that the term "pinkwashing" is aimed at KFC, which has pledged 50 cents of each pink bucket sold to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, but she said the Komen Foundation is implicated, too, for partnering up with the fast-food giant.
Brenner said that low-income people tend to have worse health outcomes, and are often most acutely affected by diseases like breast cancer, and she pointed to a lack of access to "good food" as a primary reason for this.
Though Andrea Rader, a Komen spokesperson, said that, "we primarily see this as an opportunity to do a lot of outreach in a lot of places we wouldn't ordinarily reach," Brenner contended that raising money for breast cancer by selling unhealthy products "smacks of a certain level of hypocrisy."
Excess body fat has been linked to an increased risk of cancer by the American Cancer Society. A 2003 American Cancer Society study published in the New England Journal of Medicine — one of many on the topic — found that obesity is associated with increased cancer death rates. In fact, severely obese women were most at risk, having a 62 percent higher death rate from all cancers combined than their normal-weight counterparts.
The Komen Foundation itself notes such links on its website, so how do they reconcile a pink bucket of fried (or even grilled) chicken, which doesn't exactly qualify as health food, with their mission?
"Consumers ultimately have a choice about what they will eat," says Andrea Rader, a Komen spokesperson said, adding that KFC has a range of options: "they have grilled chicken, they have vegetables, they have information on their website about healthy eating....This partnership gives people information on how to eat healthy at this restaurant [and] spreads education about breast cancer."
But Brenner said that that the idea of personal responsibility sends the message that breast cancer is one's own fault. "Komen says it's the responsibly of individual to eat healthy, but [low-income people] can't be responsible to eat healthy when they don't have the resources — either food or money — to do that," she said.
That's not to discount all of the work the Komen Foundation has done over the years, Brenner said. The Komen Foundation has lent its name and the 'pink' label to various programs over the years, but it's also been a major player in raising breast cancer awareness and galvanizing a community around the breast cancer cause, as Nancy Brinker told NPR earlier this year.
Still, Brenner said that BCA and other organizations in support of the breast cancer cause, would like to see the focus shift toward more in-depth education about the disease. "Komen has done a fabulous job of raising awareness of breast cancer, but we don't need any more awareness. We've got plenty of awareness. The question is, how much do people know and what do we do now?" she said.