How Chili’s Almost Championed the Anti-Vaccine Crusade

Backlash forced the casual dining restaurant to cancel a fund-raiser for a controversial autism awareness group.

(Photo: Rob_Rob2001/Flickr)

Apr 8, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

It started out well meaning enough: Dine at Chili’s, and 10 percent of your check will go to the National Autism Association. If you’re going to order those Southwestern egg rolls, might as well have something good come out of it, right? Not so fast. The NAA shares Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccine credo—and some people were none too pleased with Chili’s for backing it.

The chain triggered a tsunami of bad press after announcing that 1,200 of its restaurants were going to run the promotion in honor of Autism Awareness Month. “The intent of our 4/7 National Give Back Event is not to express a view on this matter, but rather to support the families affected by autism,” the company explained on Facebook last Friday. Soon enough, commenters pointed out the NAA’s dubious stance on what causes autism, which is clearly stated on its website.

“Based on parents’ reports—including parents representing the National Autism Association—sharp regression occurred in their children directly following immunizations,” writes the NAA. “Though published mainstream science fails to acknowledge a causal link to any of these specific exposures, it’s important that parental accounts be carefully considered.”

Following a deluge of negative feedback, Chili’s canceled the promotion on Monday morning. Though many applauded the decision, not everyone is satisfied. “There’s absolutely no reason that the company couldn’t have researched the organization,” one commenter said on Facebook. “I think the lesson here is for individuals to donate directly, then find ways to get involved personally instead of going through third parties.”

The company’s misstep is part of a dangerous celebrity-led trend of speaking out against vaccination. Last year, California had the biggest number of kindergartners unvaccinated owing to their parents’ “philosophical reasons.” By last month, 49 cases of measles had been reported in the state, a spike from the four reported by this time in 2013. Health officials in New York are urging vaccinations after 25 cases of measles were reported in two months.

How is Chili's fixing its blunder?

The company has promised to help the cause some other way: “We believe autism awareness continues to be an important cause to our guests and team members, and we will find another way to support this worthy effort,” according to an official Chili's blog post.