In the latest incarnation of pink ribbon promotions, the prominent breast cancer advocacy group Susan G. Komen for the Cure has teamed up with KFC in a national "Buckets for the Cure" campaign which will run until May 23.
But while the endeavor guarantees to bring big money to the cause, this unlikely partnership is rustling more than a few feathers in the breast cancer community -- eating fatty foods, argue some detractors, increases the risk of breast cancer.
For each pink bucket of chicken purchased, KFC will donate 50 cents to Komen with the ultimate goal of $8 million -- which would be the single largest donation ever received by the organization.
The campaign has already raised $2 million in its first week alone.
While corporate partnerships like the "pink bucket" provide essential non-profit funding for breast cancer advocacy, Komen's current campaign raises the question among some critics: is pink promotion being taken too far?
It sends a mixed message, says Barbara Brenner, executive director of Breast Cancer Action. "They are raising money for women's health by selling a product that's bad for your health … it's hypocrisy."
Eat a Breast to Save a Breast
As the world's largest breast cancer organization, Komen provides the largest source of nonprofit funds to breast cancer research and advocacy and has affiliates throughout the country.
"Pinking" fried chicken is only one of Susan G. Komen for the Cure's nearly 240 corporate partnerships, says Andrea Rader, director of marketing and communications at the organization.
KFC has over 5,000 restaurants nationwide, 900 of which are in communities that Komen currently has no presence or outreach in, so when the fast food chain expressed interest in a partnership, Komen took it as an "opportunity to connect and educate," Rader says.
"Mother's day is typically KFC's biggest sales day, so the idea was that this would be a good window for this promotion," Rader says. "We find that when people see these kinds of promotions, they act on it, whether by going to the website, talking to a neighbor or a doctor, and that's critical to us -- that awareness."
Why KFC Can Help Cancer
But is all attention necessarily good attention?
"People are just furious about this," Brenner says. "On Twitter, on Facebook, in emails Breast Cancer Action is receiving, people are saying they've lost their faith in Komen. It's been a respectable advocacy group, but many are questioning this move."
According to medical experts, there is an established connection between eating fatty, high caloric food and the risk for breast cancer.
"The number one most important guideline for cancer prevention is to maintain a healthy weight," says Cheryl Rock, who researches the connection between diet and breast cancer at University of California, San Diego.
Because of this link, Brenner says Komen's campaign may "undercut the cause."
"Post menopausal weight gain increases risk for breast cancer, Komen has this on their website, they know this, and yet they're tied to a company that's feeding the obesity habit in this country," Brenner says.
KFC spokesman Rick Maynard counters that KFC has grilled chicken options and vegetable sides which are "a great option for people counting calories" and Rader adds that cancer prevention is "not so simple" as to say that "eating this chicken will give you cancer".
Indeed, there is no direct link between eating fried chicken and a higher cancer risk, says Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health.
"But there is definitely a link between being overweight and breast cancer and eating fast food typically contributes to being overweight," he adds, "so I would say it's a mixed message."
Fried Chicken for Women's Health --What the Cluck?
While hocking fried chicken to fight cancer has raised a few eyebrows, the fact remains that Komen's style of pink promotion has been responsible for $1.5 billion in breast cancer funding to date -- funds that Rader says have brought awareness, better care, and top-of-line research to millions of women nationwide.
"People say 'oh, we've had enough pink, we have enough awareness,'" but there are still women who are dangerously uninformed when it comes to breast cancer prevention and treatment, Rader says. "This is an opportunity to extend that education to an awful lot of people."
Rader says that Komen would of course never partner with cigarette or alcohol companies, but fried chicken is a more complicated issue.
"One end of the spectrum would be promoting cancer fundraising with 50 cents back on each package of cigarettes," Willett says, "but this isn't quite that."
"It would be nice to promote it in a way that was related to positive eating," he says, "but it's still a great cause."
And if people are going to buy fast food anyway, Rock says, "at least if they buy it in a pink bucket, something good will come out of it."
Still, for all the progress and all the research, the number of women dying of breast cancer has not really gone down, she says.
"We're doing something wrong [in our prevention efforts], and one of the things we're doing wrong is how we eat."