With the recent opening of a Chipotle in the Lewisburg Area, a fine addition to the growing fast-casual restaraunt choices, it seems fitting to figure out what exactly their deal is. If past sustainability courses and discussions have ever mentioned Chipotle, the burrito-serving giant has been generally regarded as one of the good guys, showing healthier, more natural food can be popular, and still bring in large profits. Their website has a few certain topics of sustainability that they are committed to, detailed on a page titled, “Food With Integrity”. It mostly revolves around their commitment (“day after day” as the website says) to local farmers, animals and healthier ingredients. They source food from local farmers who do not mistreat their live stock, use natural, no artificially flavored vegetables, and vowed to serve non-GMO food in 2015, which they apparently achieved. All of these marketing techiniques, showing how Chipotle is raising the bar, and how traditional farmer’s are portrayed as factory style, hormone injecting overseers has led people to find Chipotle a healthier option in today’s fast-casual, and fast food society. Although not everything at Chipotle is green pastures and prancing potbelly pigs.
The company has grown to enormous proportions in a short time and have been showing people that healthy is the new trend. One obvious piece of this puzzle to quickly go over is Chipotle’s lack of sustainability reporting. Try searching the internet for Chipotle’s annual sustainability report. I didn’t find anything. I even found a couple pages that suggest they actually do a report, instead. Companies that do not position themselves in the market as healthy, sustainable firms have been doing this for years. Look at ING Group or Hershey Chocolates. So why does Chipotle not participate? This seems like a no brainer. Maybe they think their quite bland, and ambiguous “Food With Integrity” page on their website is enough. Maybe they don’t think they have to prove anything to anyone, but themselves. Still, it puts a pretty easy target on their backs for anyone looking to criticize them.
Now, Chipotle’s Food With Intgrity mission. One of their claims is to serve non-GMO foods. First of all, recent studies cited in the Genetic Literacy Project and an article from Consumer Freedom state that GMOs are safe for human consumption. So why do they claim to have healthier food because its GMO free? Well, thats up to you and I, I suppose. Afterall, almost every soft drink served in Chipotle is made from GMO starches. Furthermore, their “Responsibly Raised Beef” which is toted as GMO, and antibiotic free isn’t exactly accurate. The farmers are usually feeding the livestock GMO corn, starch etc. and according to Consumer Freedom Chipotle recently made a quiet switch to allowing livestock treated with anitbiotics to go through a rest period to allow the medicine to work through the body before being used for food, just as the government mandates. They used to simply sell any animal treated with antibiotics to another farm or company for regular food sales. So, essentially every food company also abides by the anitbiotic free rule, as it is, in fact, a law. Also included in the report from Genetic Literacy Project is the use of natural rennet, an ingredient for cheese. Because rennet is in short supply scientists have created a biologically engineered version. The biological version is in fact GMO-free, but also not natural by any means. Chipotle uses the engineered version of Renner as it is more readily accessible and cheaper. Lastly, local sourced meat and vegetables is a big piece of Food With Integrity. In the same Genetic literacy Project article, its revealed that only 10% of Chipotle’s ingedients come from a farm within a couple hundred miles. Again, what local is in today’s globalized society is up for interpretation I suppose. But by no means is the bulk of Chipotle’s ingredients from a locally sourced farm.
Finally, the news that is sweeping the nation is the rise of E. Coli 026 cases from Chipotle customers. Across the U.S. 53 people have been diagnosed with E. Coli, and of those, 46 had eaten at a Chipotle within a week of becoming ill, as stated in an article from Bloomberg.com. That’s not all. Chipotle can also add Salmonella and norovirus to its disease list, as cases had been found in California, Minnesota, and Massachusetts. The salmonella was from tomatoes, while norovirus came from a sick employee who was not sent home despite Chipotle offering paid sick leave this past summer. How can “Food With Integrity” be genuine when there are examples of deceptive marketing, and more importantly major disease cases? Well, in short, it doesn’t seem like it can be.
Chipotle could have been more worried about GMO-free products instead of the healthiness of their current foods. The whole thing could be a massive marketing ploy. Regardless, they have led us believe their food is healthier and perhaps even safer than the competition on the surface when that may not be accurate. With that being said, they are still shown to be doing something to make a difference. Even if it is only because they are the only ones using it to their advantage in the market, they do live up to their promise at least in a minimal sense with Food With Integrity. The same disease cases could have happened anywhere, but because of their market positioning it makes it a bigger, and easier criticism. I will still enjoy a burrito or bowl from time to time, but I think I’ll be taking Chipotle with a grain of salt from now on.
Featured image from Chipotle’s Farmed and Dangerous website. Farmed and Dangerous is a Hulu-exclusive mini series by Chipotle poking fun at industrial farming techniques.