Commentary: No sale, Chipotle

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The activist fringe is on a vendetta to punish perhaps the most progressive, animal-friendly restaurant chain around. Why? Because they want the whole enchilada, not just a bite or two.

You gotta love zealots.

Well . . . love ’em or hate ’em, I suppose. There’s usually no middle ground, either with the zealots themselves or the fanatics who follow them or fight them.

One subset of Homo zealous that has interested me over the years is the radical animal rights activists, the ones who insist that pets are really “companions,” who compare feedlots to Nazi death camps and who openly yearn for the day when animals have legal standing to sue humans in federal court.

I find them interesting because the contradictions generated by their rhetoric are breathtaking in scope. If somebody’s pet pooch doesn’t have a heated doghouse to sleep in, it’s an outrage worthy of jail time. But when a pack of wolves attack a pregnant caribou or elk cow and literally tears her to shreds while she’s still alive, why that’s just nature’s way, don’t ya know?

Here’s an even better one, courtesy of the San Francisco-based group Direct Action Everywhere.

As many patrons of this website know, Chipotle’s restaurant chain has been outspoken about its intentions to utilize food products from “humanely raised” livestock. Its CEO and chief spokesperson, Steve Ells, is widely recognized for his pledge to “run our business in a way that doesn’t exploit animals.”

Chipotle sources naturally raised meats, buys antibiotic-free poultry and is a vocal (and financial) supporter of ranchers and farmers raising grassfed beef and pastured pork — all stances that ought to earn the praise and support of activists focused on animal welfare, right?

Oh, no. These are zealots, remember? There’s no such thing as accepting half-hearted changes that don’t fulfill the letter of the law activists demand that everyone follow.

There’s no “promise” in “compromise.” Either go all the way and abolish the entire business of animal husbandry, or don’t come around seeking activist approval.

Even when Ells recently announced that Chipotle would be rolling out a new line of vegan “sofritas,” which even a few hardcore animal rights proponents admitted was an animal-friendly option, that wasn’t good enough for those who embrace zealotry.

Like Wayne Hsiung, the Bay Area organizer for the Direct Action Everywhere group. He denounced Chipotle in a savage screed on (“San Francisco’s Alternative Online Daily”). He said that “Chipotle is one of the leaders in ‘humane washing’ — attempts to disguise the brutal reality of animal agriculture as ‘humane,’ ‘responsible,’ or even ‘compassionate.’

Hsiung defined “humane washing” to include sourcing ingredients from factory farms, “where animals often go insane from confinement in dark, terrifying cages,” and embracing production standards that “involve brutal mistreatment of animals.”

Even worse? Chipotle uses “marketing language,” such as “natural,” which has no regulatory significance.

The bastards.

The animal lover’s agenda

And here’s the contradiction I find most amusing. In justifying his group going after one of the acknowledged leaders in the humane husbandry movement, Hsiung argued that, “The basic question our campaign asks is not whether we have been duped by a single company, but rather, whether we, as an animal-loving society, have been duped by an entire industry that wants us to believe its violent lies.”

What are those violent lies, you ask? “That animals are merely things for us to (responsibly) use, kill and eat. How can we say we love animals, and that we oppose cruelty against them, when we are cutting their throats in unnecessarily violent and frightening fashion for our financial or gustatory benefit?”

He goes on to state that, “Praising corporations as a strategy for social change is doomed for failure. Adopting a ‘fear and loathing’ approach toward elected officials [and] profit-seeking corporations is essential for achieving social change. Activists must focus on results, not promises; they must pursue their agenda, not the politician’s.”

But what is the activist agenda? It calls for:

  • A ban on horse slaughter,
  • Imposition of production controls,
  • Heightened food-safety regulations,
  • Tougher anti-pollution laws, and
  • Expansion of workers protections.

It’s fine to condemn electoral politics and insist that true believers follow their agenda, not some politician’s. But the activist agenda is all about government regulation and legislation — accomplishing by federal fiat what even progressives like Steve Ells can’t be sweet-talked into doing.

To zealots like Wayne Hsiung, Ells is the bad guy, because he’s not willing to go all the way, which in his case would mean selling off his restaurants and devoting the rest of his life to rescuing abandoned puppies, I guess.

In the fantasy world of zealotry, the rage that true believers feel toward people who don’t embrace their entire agenda is useless when it’s directed to politicians. After all, activists can’t be wasting their time on politics when they need to get laws passed and regulations enforced and court cases tried so that animal abuse can be eliminated forever.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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March, 17, 2014 at 10:28 AM

Ah the irony! Some people get what they deserve, not often enough, but occasionally .

March, 18, 2014 at 02:29 AM

Boise  |  March, 18, 2014 at 10:30 AM

Wow, that Salon article is really interesting. Makes you think.

kansas  |  March, 18, 2014 at 01:17 PM

Kelly - in Boise? No, it doesn't "make you think", it tells you What to Think. I know that's a mind-numbing "thought" for true-believers and products of the US Public Education system of today, but please try to wrap your mind around it. And look up the definition of "propaganda" & "mind control" & "cult" in wikipedia, if nowhere else. Perhaps it's not too late for you.

kansas  |  March, 18, 2014 at 02:01 PM

And Dan, Dan, Dan - There you go again slamming the better & more moral-than-you progressives! Are you so ignorant that you're unaware that when you sarcastically attempt to demean them writing, "...who openly yearn for the day when animals have legal standing to sue humans in federal court', that you are also attacking The One that we had been waiting for and all that's holy too? Our USDA Secretary, Vilsack's, bosses' favorite advisor, Harvard law professor and former Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs? How dare you! And your obnoxious statement regarding the Evil Mr. Ells' option of "rescuing abandoned puppies" sickens everyone who knows that abandoned puppies MUST be turned over to PETA for proper, humane Execution and placement in nearby dumpsters... on their way to puppy heaven. As Wayne Pacelle's HSUS is NOT wasting any of his salary, pension or lobbying money on comfort for those "companions" which he thinks are neither lovable or cute, I cannot advise puppies be delivered to them for the Final Solution. Please, Mr. Murphy, do better research and stop demonizing your betters. ("Lean in!" and move "Forward" to "Hope" & "Change")


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