Why Five Guys' Decision To Give Away Free Food Was So Controversial

If you were to think of the most controversial topic in the world, it's a safe bet that getting free food isn't one of them. It seems whenever restaurants offer free food through mobile deals or through promotional events like the famed McDonald's Monopoly, those places find themselves getting a whole lot more popular. Of course, it's not just Ronald McDonald or the Wendy's girl who try boosting their popularity with the promise of complimentary Frostys or fries. But as the team at Virginia-based burger chain Five Guys once learned, this practice can come with unintended consequences.

In 2015, Five Guys and Whole Foods in Baltimore teamed up to give away free food to members of the police and the National Guard (via Social News Daily). On the surface, this may seem to be a harmless promotion to thank law enforcement and members of our military in the same way businesses can have discounts for veterans. However, it wasn't just the act of giving free food to law enforcement that riled some people up, but why they were giving free food to them in the first place.

It was during the 2015 Freddie Gray protests

In 2015, 25-year-old Freddie Gray passed away in police custody following an April 19 arrest (via The Washington Post). Due to the highly suspicious nature of his death, protestors took to the street to raise awareness of the mistreatment of African-American men by police officials. As tensions between police and protestors escalated throughout the course of the month, Five Guys and Whole Foods opted to give both officers and National Guardsmen free food. 

To some, the act of giving free meals to a group that was currently being protested against was inappropriate. Outrage was fueled even more by the revelation that, following the closure of Baltimore public schools after protests that had turned violent, low-income families found themselves without a way to feed their children.

"As Baltimore's poorest kids are left hungry due to school closure (no school lunch), @WholeFoods feeds the oppressor," journalist Rania Khalek tweeted. "Pretty disgusting that @WholeFoods & @FiveGuys are giving free food to the National Guard in Baltimore instead of the malnourished kids," another furious tweet read.

Although the team at Whole Foods would go on to tell ABC News that the store was working with community organizations to supply food to families in need during the protests, Five Guys has since remained quiet about the affair, presumably to avoid any unwanted attention.