Did you know you raise food the wrong way? If you raise hogs inside a building you do. At least that’s according to a new 2:20-minute film created by Chipotle Mexican Grill.
You know, Chipotle—it’s the “natural,” quick-serve burrito chain. Oops, my bad—it’s more than that, as a rotating message on its website says, “It’s not just a burrito. It’s a foil-wrapped, hand-crafted, local-farm-supporting, food-culture-changing cylinder of deliciousness.”
Hmmm, how environmentally sustainable do you suppose that foil wrapping is?
Chipotle is advancing its “food-culture-changing” message by rolling out a stop-motion film in 5,700 movie theaters on Sept. 11. (The summer movie hit The Help didn’t get as many theaters to open.) Entitled “Back to the Start” it features Willie Nelson singing Coldplay’s hit song “The Scientist.” There is no other audio.
The film shows a farmer moving his pigs into pens and buildings. The farm size grows and grows. In a factory setting pigs are given pills to fatten them, after which they are stamped out into uniform squares and shipped off to big stores. On what is presented as a cold, desolate day, the farmer has regrets and tears down the buildings to let his pigs and cows roam free. A much happier farmer then loads his product himself on a truck headed for Chipotle. “Cultivate a better world” is the final message. (You can view it here.)
Willie’s version of the song is available on iTunes, of which 60 cents per download goes to “The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation.” According to the website, the foundation provides funding to support “sustainable agriculture, family farming and culinary education.” The first two are apparently left up to Chipotle’s discretion as there’s no definition of either.
I have a particular beef with the everyday use of the terms “sustainable agriculture” and “family farming” because too often both are used superficially and naively.
Chipotle has long promoted its slogan “Food with integrity”— implying that its food process has integrity and others don’t. Now Steve Ellis, the chain’s founder, is throwing out “food that is raised right” in case consumers missed the point the first time.
“We have always understood the importance of serving food that is raised right,” Ellis says. “We produced this film to help illustrate the choices people face in deciding what to eat, and hope that it will encourage people to choose food that is raised with respect for the land, the animals and the farmers that produce it.”
There’s no denying that Chipotle is a powerhouse. It makes above-average, quick, tasty Mexican food with broad appeal, especially to young adults. Today it has 1,100 restaurants. When it surfaced in 1993, it arguably triggered a much-needed changed in the quick-service food category.
There’s no debating that Chipotle has a right to promote its restaurants and food. It also has the right to promote natural and organic product if that’s what Chipotle is serving. But, that’s not what this film is about, and that’s where it crosses the line.
This 2:20-minute film is designed to chip away at consumers’ view of today’s farming practices and people, defining them as wrong, irresponsible and lacking integrity and respect.
The chain also is taking its message to Chicago on Oct. 1, where from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. it will host the “Cultivate Festival” in Lincoln Park. The free event will feature 11 celebrity chefs, five bands and some farmer/suppliers. Proceeds from food sales will go to familyfarmed.org.
Now, I don’t care if a consumer (or a restaurant) buys local, natural or organic food. It’s when the message becomes “this way is right, that way is wrong; this way is sustainable, that way is not; this way has integrity, that way does not,” that I have serious issues with the message—and you should too.