Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Chipotle's "Food With Integrity" Philosophy Lacks Integrity

I find it particularly unethical when a corporation purports to be something that it’s not, especially regarding concern for animals, the environment, workers, etc. Such is the case with Chipotle Mexican Grill, a chain of “fast-casual” restaurants across the United States.

A substantial portion of Chipotle’s website is devoted to its “Food With Integrity” philosophy, which is described as food that is “better tasting, coming from better sources, better for the environment, better for the animals, and better for the farmers who raise the animals and grow the produce.” Other sections of the site boast of “naturally raised” artisanal and organic meats free of added hormones; tout “sustainable practices”, “family-farmed”, “seasonal”; and describe working with dairy suppliers to eliminate synthetic growth hormones in their sour cream.

In the section titled “Steve’s Vision” founder and CEO Steve Ells recounts opening his first Chipotle in Denver in 1993, and how at the time he had no idea that the number of restaurants would eventually grow to several hundred. He expresses his love for cooking and the challenge it represents. He mentions that he continually strives to improve things.

Then he describes how he learned about factory farms by reading an issue of a newsletter written by food writer Ed Behr that focused on Niman Ranch, and an Iowa hog farmer named Paul Willis who “raised pigs the old-fashioned way.” He delves into the cruel practices of factory farming and contrasts them with what he calls “old school animal husbandry naturally raised”, which his company has embraced to “help create a more sustainable food chain that emphasizes the welfare of people, animals, and the land.”

Ells says that “Learning about this dark side of modern agriculture made me want to find out how we could do things differently.” But incredibly, he doesn’t seem to consider the killing of animals to be part of that “dark side”.

The company now buys most of its meat from several small niche-market suppliers, who avoid the use of antibiotics, and provide their animals with more space, better bedding, and vegetarian feed.

While it doesn’t surprise me, I think it’s horrific that Chipotle suggests to people on its website, in its advertising, and on its in-store menu boards, that they are doing something conscientious, or morally superior, by eating cows, pigs, and chickens that have been enslaved in a somewhat nicer way before being sent off to their deaths.

Chipotle commodifies these animals by referring to their flesh as “artisanal” or “organic”, as if it were talking about loaves of bread or bottles of wine. By framing the exploitation in the contexts of “naturally raised” and “Food With Integrity”, Chipotle rakes in profits as it attracts customers who are perfectly willing to spend more money to eat “humanely raised” animals without guilt.

The company claims that “Food With Integrity” isn’t a marketing slogan, but that’s precisely what it is. Because if Chipotle was really concerned about the welfare of animals (or the health of the environment), they wouldn’t have them on the menu.

This is an example of how the promotion of “happy meat” at best perpetuates animal exploitation, and at worst, increases it. Not only does Chipotle offer the public absolutely nothing in the way of incentives to stop eating animals, it provides insincere reasons for them to continue to consume them as usual.

Ells wraps up by writing: “we know that at the end of the day, we can't judge our own integrity. That's for our customers to decide.” Well here’s one customer who’s decided that Chipotle’s “Food With Integrity” philosophy, lacks integrity.


Anonymous said...

Personally I think Chipotle's awesome vegan selections are great incentives not to eat animals.

Ken Hopes said...

I agree that their vegan selections are excellent, for those so inclined. But offering those selections is in no way dependant on their promotion of “humane meat”. For people wishing to continue to eat meat, and for those looking to return to meat eating, Chipotle offers them an excuse to do just that.

Anonymous said...

maybe PETA will give them an award

Ken Hopes said...

That sounds like something they would do, in keeping with their utilitarianism. Honestly, I haven't been paying much attention to PETA's website lately, so maybe they've already done that.