Chipotle’s imagination – how pure is it?

You might have seen this haunting and beautiful new viral commercial from Chipotle (complete with a Fiona Apple cover of ‘Pure Imagination’). If not, check it out below.


The first time I saw it, I thought, YES! Beautiful animation, great music, down with Big Food! Hooray! 

And then I saw this response from Funny or Die.


So which one is right? Should we see Chipotle as a corporation trying to educate the public and make a real change in how industrial food is sourced and produced? Or are they trying to manipulate us into purchasing their “better” burritos?

I’d say both. 

When it comes to sourcing ingredients, Chipotle does set itself apart from virtually all other quick-service restaurant chains (with the possible exception of Moe’s, which sources their meat with more discretion than say, McDonald’s). They use the tag “food with integrity.” Most of their meats are produced without giving the animals added hormones or sub-therapeutic antibiotics. They claim to source their produce locally and organically “when practical” and use dairy products from cows raised without added hormones. 

The fact that this information is even available on their website sets them apart from other restaurants, who make claims about the “quality” of their food and its “freshness” but not about where it came from. No matter what, Chipotle deserves credit for even acknowledging that it matters where your food comes from and in the case of meat and dairy, how the animal was raised. I don’t see Ronald McDonald giving kids lectures on the CAFO feedlots where Mayor McCheese sources his beef.

However.

Chipotle is still a huge corporation. In 2012, they made $2.7 BILLION in sales revenue. They have corporate interests, with shareholders to please. And they spend an enormous amount of money on marketing, including this commercial and its accompanying games. This commercial was designed with the intent to (as the Funny or Die parody points out) tug at your heart strings and make you feel something. Yes, it is telling you that industrial agriculture is fundamentally not “right.” But it’s also telling you to buy Chipotle burritos. Don’t make the burrito at home with whole, clean foods. Buy Chipotle and let them do the worrying about where the food comes from. You can TRUST them.

The last time I was in a Chipotle, there was a sign saying the beef was conventionally raised. While I respect that they bothered to even inform people of that, it’s true that they would rather purchase and serve conventional beef than say “we’re out of beef today, please choose pork, vegetables or chicken.” To me that says that profit (and the satisfaction of customers who want their beef, no matter what) comes first.

Let’s not forget that Chipotle also admits that GMOs are present in most of their menu items (save for salad fixings and the pork carnitas). While they have labeled the items and claim to be working toward eliminating them, they still are reliant on GMO soy and corn, including the soybean oil used to cook their rice (which is also why the rice is so high-cal). So while they are taking steps toward moving beyond some industrial agriculture practices, they are fully entrenched in others. 

Does this mean you should stop eating at Chipotle? Not necessarily. I don’t lump them in the same category as McDonald’s, since of quick-service restaurants they have shown the most transparency with their ingredients and a willingness to respond to increasing consumer demand for more sustainable, humanely raised food. But you should know what you’re eating – and when you see something like the Scarecrow, recognize it for what it is – beautiful, haunting marketing – and let it inspire you to make your own burrito.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15163030667700746146 Nathan

    With this vital video I hope people don’t confuse the “don’t eat crow” message with the Eat CRO (Clarion River Organics) message:)