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Why I'm Boycotting Tim Hortons

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I've decided to boycott Tim Hortons -- Canada's ubiquitous coffee and donut chain that commands an almost irrational nationalistic loyalty among patrons.

The decision has been a long-time coming; I was once a Timmy's fan and went, at times, as often as once per day for a double-cupped black coffee, and the occasional toasted bagel or chocolate-dip donut.

My disenchantment with Tim Hortons has nothing to do with my anal-retentive editor's eye (I edit magazines for a living) and the fact that the coffee shop name should properly have an apostrophe (being possessive) before the "s" as in "McDonald's" and "Wendy's." It's ironic that a Canadian restaurant should so disparage the English language and be shown up by its American counterparts on this minor point. (And doubly ironic given that Wendy's used to own Tim Hortons!)

Rather, it has to do with some more egregious ways in which the chain is both like and (now) unlike its fast food brethren.

First, as noted in my last column ("My Whacked-Out Voodoo Health Journey"), there's very little on the Tim Hortons' menu (make that "display") that should appeal to anyone taking their overall fitness and arterial health into consideration when dining. Where the other fast food outlets are making some fairly significant overtures to those who might prefer a salad over fries, Tim Hortons seems stuck on, well, sticky dough. I don't care to get into the science of it all; suffice it to say that one glance at the wall of donuts and related flour-based items is enough to signify that one is in the realm of low-nutrition high-carb diets, where diabetes is not unknown...

I wonder if, in time, restaurants like this will (along with the soft drink companies) end up being subjected to the kind of lawsuits as was the tobacco industry?

However, I concede that there is at least some "buyer beware" element in people's decision to eat these carbs and caffeine drinks, though perhaps many people are unaware just how addictive carbohydrates from doughy-sugary foods can be, releasing (as they do) endorphins in the brain that have a sedative-like effect.

Tim Hortons has taken some steps (admittedly baby ones) in the realm of environmental responsibility and has at least put some recycling and composting containers in its restaurants. I know it's doing some work figuring out how to recycle and/or compost its cups, though I believe it's also sidestepping the expense that would attend doing something really powerful to achieve waste diversion (like putting a deposit on each cup, so customers would have a true incentive to return them for processing).

I was edging toward boycotting Tim Hortons for a combination of the above reasons, as part of my journey toward improved health, fitness, and personal accountability in the area of "sustainability."

What really put me over the top, however, was learning recently that Tim Hortons has thus far resisted a campaign urging it to join with certain other fast food restaurants in weaning itself off meat producers whose use of things like "gestation crates" for pigs that are cruel to the animals.

In addition to spelling their names properly, McDonald's and Wendy's have committed to phase out pork products from producers using such crates. Burger King is following suit.

What is a gestation crate?

According to the Humane Society, gestation crates are metal stalls measuring approximately 0.7 m (2 ft) by 2m (7 ft) -- barely larger than a sow:

"This crate is specifically designed to severely restrict a sow's movement and thwart her natural behaviors. A breeding sow spends most of her reproductive life (normally 3-5 years) in such a gestation crate on a concrete floor. She endures a continuous cycle of impregnation and birth, producing more than 20 piglets per year, 15 percent of whom will die by the age of 2-3 weeks. The piglets who survive are taken away from her and crowded into pens with metal bars and concrete floors, destined for the same life as their mother or the dinner plate."

So what exactly is Tim Hortons' position on the crates?

In April, the restaurant chain issued a report on sustainability and corporate responsibility that updated its animal welfare policies, but didn't offer specific promises regarding sow gestation crates. Instead, it offered statements to the effect that it wants to work with different stakeholder groups to develop alternative housing systems over time.

An April 13 article in the agricultural trade magazine the Western Producer quoted
Tim Faveri, Tim Hortons' director of sustainability and responsibility, saying, "What we firmly believe in is engagement with the industry and with experts. We're not the type of organization... that will go out and make broad statements if we know they're not achievable."

This kind of bafflegab and foot-dragging isn't acceptable to the Humane Society, especially when other restaurant chains are staking out leadership positions.

And it isn't good enough for me either.

I remind readers of a wonderful quote from Canada's legendary media analyst Marshall McLuhan (made in 1965 in reference to Buckminster Fuller's 1963 Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth):

"There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew."

Tim Hortons needs to step up its game as a corporate crew member before its reticence over the gestation crate issue permanently damages its reputation. I am fairly well done with the restaurant chain and, until I see dramatic changes, will no longer darken its doors.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Tim Hortons was owned by Wendy's. In fact the latter hasn't owned the former since 2006.