I went to a screening of the movie Food, Inc. last night hosted by Chipotle—the Mexican fast-food chain that I was always under the impression was owned by McDonald’s but that from what I gleaned through various unreliable sources on the world-wide-web turns out to be urban myth. The movie was exactly what I expected it to be–a really horrifying glimpse into how our food is produced. (I say “our,” just to be a team player, but to be clear, it is not how my food is produced because, I am proud to admit, I am a total pain in the ass about what I will and will not eat–and it is not INC. food.)
Chipotle, which uses the tag-line “food with integrity,” and claims to use all organic rice, beans, and veggies in their whopper-sized burritos and tacos (which are wrapped, oddly enough, in flour tortillas–but that’s another story), is hosting these free screenings all over the country in an apparent effort to scare people away from McDonald’s drive-though window and up to their cool, industrial-style counters. When the Chipotle reps handed out cards on the way out, one side offered me a free taco, while the other side explained their philosophy of “not exploiting animals, the environment, or people.” The card explained that their dairy products come from non-rBGH cows, and that one-third of their beans are raised organically. (Excuse me, not to be a stickler, but… one third?) and that Chipotle uses all sustainably raised meats, which the representative who introduced the film explained applied to all pork and chicken, and 35% of their beef. Yes, thirty-five percent of their beef. Which leaves another 65% unaccounted for…
I first heard that fact when I met a different Chipotle rep in Washington during the Alice Waters-hosted inaugural dinners, and the number stuck out at me at the time, but after seeing the film, and seeing Chipotle get behind the film, it really stuck out. I wondered, if I redeem my card, will my taco be filled with the 35% meat, or the 65% meat–meat that the movie very graphically depicts is from cows that live knee-deep in communal manure, fattened up on a diet of corn, which they were never supposed to eat to begin with, and slaughtered in a filthy way that accounts for just few enough human deaths a year that their lobbyists-turned-politicians are able to let it slide. When I asked the Chipotle representatives about this last night, she efficiently explained that it’s not a blend of good meat and bad–but that depending on what region you live in, you are either being served good meat, or bad. Here in Southern California, she said, where grass-fed meat is not available in the quantities Chipotle demands, they have to resort to the meat from those cows you see in the film, carried by a fork lift to slaughter because for one reason or another they cannot perform basic cow functions, such as walking. So, what you’re saying is Chipotle throws everything they believe in out the window so that I can have the option of beef over chicken inside my flour tortilla taco?
If Chipotle really and truly does believe that raising beef the way it is raised and slaughtered according to the American industrial food system is as shameful and detrimental to our well-being as the movie depicts–bad for the planet, bad for the cows, and bad–maybe even lethal–for the people who eat them, if Chipotle’s green rap is not just a marketing strategy, then I propose something else. Like, how about you just don’t offer beef in places where humanely-raised beef is not available? I am not going to lie and say that I understand business, or even the intricacies of this particular issue about beef. But I do understand integrity, and offering something you claim to believe to be bad on a variety of levels just smells funny.