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9 Biggest Food Controversies of 2023 (So Far)

Debate has raged on several food and beverage-related topics this year.
FACT CHECKED BY Chris Shott

The food and dining world is never short on controversy, and 2023 has exhibited its fair share of drama—and it's only been six months!

Multiple restaurant, food and drink companies have faced boycotts. New state laws have restricted certain performances in bars and restaurants. Social media has stirred up its inevitable spectacles. And there's still half a year left to go.

Let's look back now at the biggest, and most bizarre, moments in the world of food and dining to date, including a reality show-adjacent scandal (yes, this is Vanderpump related). Read on and decide for yourself if you think these scandals were worth the drama, or total overkill.

RELATED: 5 Biggest Costco Controversies of 2023—So Far

Bud Light Canceled Over Partnership with Dylan Mulvaney

dylan mulvaney
Lev Radin / Shutterstock

Bud Light's partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney ignited an internet firestorm that seemingly everyone had an opinion about. Mulvaney promoted the brand's Easy Carry Contest, and announced the news in an Instagram post, donning an Audrey Hepburn-inspired look and addressing the camera alongside several cans of the light beer.

The post sparked negative commentary among conservative politicians and celebrities. Singer Kid Rock shot up a few cases of the beer and promised he'd ban it from his bar, although as of this month, it's back. Many critics used transphobic rhetoric to attack Bud Light for turning to "woke" advertising and playing off of the current political climate.

Did the furor matter? While Anheuser-Busch Inbev stock dipped from $64.97 on April 28 to $55.16 on June 9, a wider five-year view of the stock price showed that any boycott had little impact on the parent company, with the price hovering in that range since the summer of 2021.

Cracker Barrel Faced Boycotts for Supporting Pride Month

cracker barrel pride month
Cracker Barrel / Facebook

In early June, down-home style restaurant Cracker Barrel faced calls for a boycott from critics who objected to the restaurant chain showing support for the LGBTQ+ community.

The chain shared a Facebook post celebrating June as Pride Month, complete with a picture of a rocking chair painted in  rainbow colors. "We are excited to celebrate Pride Month with our employees and guests," the restaurant posted. "Everyone is always welcome at our table (and our rocker). Happy Pride!"

Lauren Chen, host of conservative news outlet BlazeTV, urged diners to avoid Cracker Barrel, writing, "Thankfully, this makes it even easier than ever to skip this mid restaurant whenever someone recommends it," she tweeted. "Everyone else should do their part and skip dining at the Cracker Barrel, too."

Also, a group called The Texas Family Project called on supporters to boycott Cracker Barrel on Thursday, June 8, stating "a once family friendly establishment has caved to the mob."

However, Cracker Barrel's post also drew many responses from social media users cheering the company's effort to recognize Pride Month, with one writing on Facebook, "This was a very sweet post. Thank you for letting them know everyone is welcome."

Chick-fil-A's Diversity Hire That Wasn't

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This one is kind of a head scratcher! Earlier in 2023, right-wing activists raised calls to boycott the Atlanta-based, conservative fast-food chain after political strategist Joey Mannarino tweeted that "Chick-Fil-A just hired a VP of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, This is bad. Very bad." He later added a poll asking if people wanted to boycott, with 46.6% selecting "Yes, boycott."

One problem? It wasn't true. The fast food chain has employed a VP of diversity, equity and inclusion since November 2021: Erick McReynolds. Also, as a reply to the tweet, a poster noted, "What the $%&* is wrong with diversity?"

Hershey Faced Backlash After Women's Day Campaign With Trans Activist

Hershey's Hulk Green Syrup
Shutterstock

Brands aren't facing culture-war boycotts just in the United States. The candy bar company learned this in March after announcing limited-edition chocolate bars featuring the likenesses of "five Canadian women working to build a better future through their passion, activism, and work in their communities." One of the women selected was trans woman and activist Fae Johnstone, who tweeted she was "honored to be featured."

While many responses were positive, Amy Kremer, the co-founder of Women for Trump, called for a boycott of Hershey's chocolate, calling the campaign "disgusting." Hershey responded in a statement that the company "value[s] togetherness and recognize[s] the strength created by diversity."

New Laws Target Drag Brunches

typhoid mary at cornells little italy in schenectady ny
Jené Sena

If you've never been to a drag brunch, it's pretty straightforward. Brunch dishes are served, mimosas are poured, and drag performers sing, dance, and tell jokes. Drag performances have been around in the U.S. since at least the late 1800s, but in 2023, several state governments decided to try and regulate how these performances took place in restaurants.

Texas passed SB12, which enforces a $10,000 fine for businesses that allow children 18 and under to view sexually explicit performances. This is forcing Texas restaurants to move any performances away from windows or other places children could potentially see them. Tennessee also tried to place strict limits on the shows, but a federal judge ruled the law unconstitutional. Florida and other states have looked at similar bans.

Maybe Don't Buy Food From TikTok

TikTok
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Early in 2023, cottage pickler Amy Mkhitarian posted a TikTok, indicating that she had completed a food-handler's safety course with plans to relaunch her business, after it was pointed out her TikTok popular Pickle Me Everything pickles were admittedly not preserving its pickles properly, which could lead to botulism poisoning. The California Department of Public Health got involved, warning users to avoid the pickles due to risk of illness.

The pickle debacle follows last year's Pink Sauce scandal, when customers who bought the TikTok-beloved sauce raised safety concerns about bottles arriving bloated and leaking.

The Scandoval Hits Schwartz & Sandy's

tom sandoval ariana madix
Michael Mattes / Shutterstock

If you're not a Bravo TV fan, then let's keep this brief: On the show "Vanderpump Rules," Tom Sandoval reportedly cheated on co-star and long-time girlfriend Ariana Madix with his other co-star Raquel Leviss. The show is based around people in Los Angeles who own and work at restaurants, so the scandal had the potential to damage Sandoval and Lisa Vanderpump's businesses, including Schwartz & Sandy's, which Sandoval owns.

When the cheating news broke, people began flooding Schwartz & Sandy's with bad Yelp reviews. In March, Sandoval made his first public statement about the mess, and asked fans not to take out their anger on the co-owners or staff of either of his bars. Several months later, it appears the restaurant is actually getting a boost from the scandal, but fans have flooded the voicemail with angry messages, and are booking reservations under insulting names for Tom Sandoval.

Lab-Grown Chicken Raises Concerns

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In June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) granted approval to two California-based startups to sell their lab-grown or "cell-cultivated" chicken. This is the first step in a regulatory process to bring slaughter-free protein to American tables, and, unsurprisingly, people have mixed feelings about it.

The companies are starting small, with the lab-grown chicken filet destined for Bar Crenn, a high-end restaurant in San Francisco run by acclaimed chef Dominique Crenn, as well as another restaurant by fellow famed chef José Andrés in Washington, D.C. Will it become the norm? Maybe. According to a study, 35% of meat eaters find the idea "disgusting" and 55% of vegetarians agreed, and no one seems to be able to agree if it's better for the environment.

Water Tok Recipes

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It's generally understood that drinking more water to keep you hydrated throughout the day can only improve your health. For some reason, this past spring, "water recipes" took over TikTok, and like every food trend that goes viral on the app, it sparked passionate discussion. Essentially, some popular TikTokers were adding flavors to their water via Skinny Syrups and other similar products (with promo codes in their bios of course), and many commenters wondered why people can't just drink water?

Bon Appetit labeled it "diet culture tomfoolery," but some are probably just happy to see this trend fall off of their "For You" page.

Tanya Edwards
Tanya Edwards is a seasoned food and health journalist, who has held roles at Yahoo Health as Managing Editor and at Food Network as Programming Director. Read more about Tanya
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