Can Fast Food Be Good Food? Chipotle Says “Yes”

Fast food.  Healthy? Responsible? Even good?

The Mexican fast-food chain Chipotle seems to think so.

Is it possible to have a fast food company that seems to actually care about not only their customers and bottom line, but also the food they source and create and the environment?  Seems like a marketing scam to me.  But, this is exactly the message I received when a Chipotle commercial played on the big screen while waiting in my local theater for a movie to begin.  The commercial immediately caught my attention.  I mean,  for starters Willie Nelson is doing a cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist”.  One of my favorite songs.  And who doesn’t like the Red Headed Stranger?  The animation is modern, even sweet.  But it was the message that really hit home for me.  Ingredients sourced from farmers who are acting in a responsible and ethical manner toward their animals, produce and environment.  I waited, excitedly wondering who the evangelical company was behind this commercial.  Who was this food advocate?  Needless to say, I was shocked to see that it was a Chipotle commercial.  I mean, it’s fast food and perhaps even worse (to me) it was once owned by the grim reaper of all fast food companies, McDonald’s.  Is this just a cleverly conceived marketing ploy taking advantage those farmers’ market going-organic food buying-almond milk drinking urbanites?  Perhaps Chipotle is just trying to tap into the growing foodie movement and all the dollars that brings.  Really, the oldest scam in the book: Greed disguised as Sincerity.

So, I did a bit of research on Chipotle and well, it seems that Chipotle is not really that bad.  I say this with a caveat, however, because while they seem to responsibly source their ingredients, this doesn’t mean you should go nuts and order a sour cream-laden, guacamole filled, cheese smothered barbacoa burrito, ie, your entire caloric intake in one meal.  But, I guess, what I’ve concluded is that if you must eat fast food (and it is very convenient), then spend your dollars at a place that strives to make a difference.  Such as,

  • Pasture-raised pork
  • First company to ban the growth hormone rBGH in all their dairy products
  • Buys from family farms thereby giving more money back into the community
  • Supports sustainable meat
  • Buys organic produce whenever possible

So, what’s my message here: I’m not giving carte blanche to just give up and stop cooking at home.  But, perhaps Chipotle is one fast food company that may be getting some things right.  If more fast food companies followed their lead it would make a dramatic impact on our food environment.  Most likely, for the better.

What do you think about this post?  Is there any validity with this argument?

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9 thoughts on “Can Fast Food Be Good Food? Chipotle Says “Yes”

  1. I think this is a wonderful post. I read about Chipotle in Peter Singer’s, “The Ethics of What We Eat,” and when that book was published they were on the right track; it sounds like they still are.

    But the first questions has to be: who is their independent, third party certifier? It’s not that I think that if they don’t have one the whole thing is bogus, but who makes sure the farms (and chipotle) live up to those standards? Again, I still think they are taking some really really wonderful first steps.

    My second point: I can see that over time Chipotle has come closer and closer to their mission of serving ethical food and I know that this has to happen slowly for them because they need to stay financially viable (this is good and helps set an example to companies interested in both).

    *But,* while they’re fairly specific about pigs, they just say that cows are “naturally raised” and I know (thanks to Marion Nestle’s “What to Eat”) that that means practically nothing; chickens arguably suffer most when involved with industrial agriculture and chipotle is even less specific about how they should be raised (no additives). (Source: Chipotle’s website).

    This is all to say, yes, they are on the right track. But have they arrived at their destination? No. We should applaud them for trying, patronize them, and urge them to do better. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have Chipotle be a paragon for other companies to live up to?

    P.S. I have emailed them asking for a more detailed fact sheet. If they respond, I’ll share. 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      First let’s start by saying I NEVER thought I would write a blog about fast food. I abhor fast food. I think fast food is what is slowly killing America through their overuse of refined carbohydrates, sugars and overly processed “food”. That being said, I think Chipotle deserved some attention because of their stance toward sourcing more sustainable and environmentally friendly products.

      I wholeheartedly agree with everything you stated–especially the independent third party certifier. The word “natural” must be read and understood with a certain level of caution because as you mention (via Nestle) it can mean anything and it can mean absolutely nothing at the same time. I certainly don’t ascribe to the notion that Chipotle is doing everything right, and I don’t think people should opt for fast food over a healthy home cooked meal. But I think they are moving in the right direction. My hope is that more companies will follow suit and move toward sourcing more organic, pastured-raised and environmentally responsible products–because unfortunately fast food is here to stay.

      1. I totally agree with you. I pretty much despise fast food because of how their products are produced and how they are too conveniently unhealthy.

        I hadnt seen this ad before, and like you, I was surprised that it was for chipotle. Hopefully they are moving in the right direction.

      2. Hi Sarah,

        Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you’ll continue to check in for new posts. As I mentioned in a previous reply, I never thought I would write about a fast food company doing something good, but there you go, never say never.

  2. I think that people are always going to buy fast food, for convenience, or cost, or hating to cook, etc. If we can find a way to have fast food companies provide products that are clean and not as harmful as they are right now, I think that would be a great thing. But it is just like buying organic at the grocery store, or buying produce over processed- there is a cost that some people are not willing to pay. So if offering cleaner fast food means increasing prices, would people still buy it. I don’t know, seems like we get to the chicken egg problem.
    PS thanks for the great post, got me thinking this morning 🙂
    -Sush

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