In Defense Of Chipotle


Yesterday, Sept 25th, Mother Jones (MJ) ran an article entitled “Behind the Burrito: 5 Things Chipotle’s Ads Don’t Tell You” wherein they set out to debunk Chipotle’s claims to be a less industrial fast food burrito type joint that does things differently than the other guys. They even ran this commercial which both MJ and I find a little creepy.


Creepiness aside, MJ, a publication which I basically respect, ran what is mostly a hit job on Chipotle which I can only describe as being in the vein of hipstery “I liked their first album better” malcontention.

Here’s their 5 gripes, non bold is me:

1. Does Chipotle support genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?

According to its website, most of Chipotle’s products contain genetically modified organisms (GMO), which accelerate the pesticides arms race and have not been adequately tested for long-term health effects.

So I checked the website and discovered that while “most of Chipotle’s products contain” GMOs, they contain GMOs in two forms only, cooking oils and ground grains in their tortillas. So while it’s true, yes, it’s not true in the way that MJ is presenting it which contains the implication that everything Chipotle makes is genetically modified. You should be avoiding processed corn and flour for the most part anyway. It has almost no nutritional value. Go burrito bowl or go home.

2. Do Chipotle pigs, chickens, and cows frolic in big grassy fields?

MJ hedges completely on this one because the truth is that the answer is mostly yes. They do make a big deal out of the fact that Chipotle sources beef that is grass fed and grain finished but they don’t tell you what that means.

“Grain finished” means corn and the reason that grass fed beef is raised on a pasture for circa a year and a half and then sent to a stockyard for about three months to put on weight in the form of fat (corn turns pretty much straight into sugar). Then the cow is slaughtered. This is markedly different from the cradle to grave feedlot raised cattle that permeates the fast food market that is 100% misery and illness. I’m not saying it’s perfect because it’s not but it actually is a big deal that Chipotle insists on sourcing cattle that were raised humanely. What’s more, regarding pork, “a majority of the farmers raise animals outdoors.” That’s straight from Drew Calvert, the director of communications of one of Chipotle’s pork suppliers, regarding all of the suppliers of pork. So it’s his competition he’s speaking well of here.

MJ misleads on this one too. They don’t make a definite negative assertion and instead lead the reader through insinuation.

3. Are most Chipotle ingredients locally sourced?

I’ll make this one easy. The answer is that Chipotle apparently buys up everything they can locally. MJ complains that’s not enough because only onions, avocados, peppers, tomatoes, jalapenos, and cilantro are purchased locally. This ignores that crops aren’t planted across the US uniformly or year round. Most crops are grown together in specific parts of the country due to climate, and it ignores that Chipotle is basically buying up all the local produce that’s available in any given area. As a restaurant, you can’t instantly create supply as badly as you might wish you could. Having said that, there’s no doubt that Chipotle is supporting local supplies with its business.

4. Does Chipotle ever use animals that are given antibiotics ?

Only about 80 percent of Chipotle beef is raised without antibiotics (or growth hormones) because of supply shortages—the rest is sourced from conventional farms, although Chipotle tries to notify customers when that is the case.

So, only when they’ve already bought all the cattle available that wasn’t raised on hormones do they then go to more traditional markets. That’s incredible. I would guess that they’re single-handedly keeping many ethically minded farmers in business but MJ doesn’t really give them credit for that.

5. Is most Chipotle food organic?

According to the Chipotle website, the only organic items—unlike the word “natural,” organic has a strict USDA definition—are beans, oregano, avocado, and cilantro, and potentially jalapenos and rice.

Wise up, MJ, that’s MOST of the ingredients in Chipotle’s food. Beans, rice? Yeah, that’s most of the ingredients (animal products aren’t considered to be “organic.” only their feed is). I was seriously surprised that their rice was organic. That’s nuts.

At the end, MJ concedes that Chipotle is better than McDonald’s and I suppose that a lot of this was just an excuse for MJ to talk about bad things in the food industry but by not fully explaining the good things Chipotle does and why they’re good things the reader get’s shortchanged. Chipotle isn’t holy food straight from the fields of heaven but it’s far and away better than any other fast food option available and it’s gone a long way towards changing agriculture on an economically noticeable scale.While it’s important to hold Chipotle accountable as a business for its own claims, I’m also not a fan of tearing down organizations that are essentially groundbreaking if imperfect. By implication and focus, MJ seems to be trying to do just that.