The new Chipotle video, titled The Scarecrow, was released last week, and within hours, the chain was drawing criticism and rants, from cynical customers to farmers offended at what the video implied.
If you’ve been reading my posts here, or following me on Instagram, you will know that supporting local farms, especially ones who practice humane animal husbandry and raise their animals on vegetarian feed, without antibiotics, and in as humane a way as possible, is all very important to me. We’ve dramatically changed the way we prepare and purchase our animal products in the last month alone, after doing more and more research into the conventional practices of factory farms, which are the main target of this latest Chipotle video. So with that said, it would be only natural for me to love this video, in which the scarecrow character breaks free of the industrial fast food production mold, to create farm fresh food for the masses. Am I a just another sucker who fell for fancy marketing techniques?
While I’m not naive to glossy marketing practices, and know that Chipotle’s stance on never using conventional meats that may have been treated with antibiotics is sometimes wavering, I do applaud Chipotle for bringing light to, and addressing a growing concern among our nation, of wanting to know where our food actually comes from. Especially the food we find at our average fast food restaurant.
While the video may have been over the top at times, in its use of metaphor, it does address issues that are unarguably true of our current factory farm system, and the food it produces.
- The over use of antibiotics is troubling and a health concern to consumers. While some may argue that it is inhumane to restrict antibiotic use for sick animals, and I can’t necessarily disagree, the truth is animals in the conventional factory farm system are given antibiotics in their feed to prevent illnesses from even occurring, which would otherwise be rampant considering their close living conditions. Antibiotic use is so concerning in fact, that yesterday the CDC confirmed a link between routine use of antibiotics in livestock and growing bacterial resistance that is killing at least 23,000 people a year.
- While the use of hormones is in fact outlawed by the USDA, factory farm animals, especially chickens, are bred to bulk up at a faster rate through their diet and restricted access. In fact, a factory farm is referred to by the EPA as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). The label itself is telling. These CAFO’s produce larger cuts of meat, and fatter breasts at a faster rate, and a cheaper cost. These factory farmed animals are what the average fast food chain is using on their ultra affordable dollar menu. While some may interpret the Chipotle video as an attack on the average small scale family-run farm, I would argue they are taking a jab at the fast food industry, and the suppliers that fuel them with the pink slime they use to make some of their beef and chicken products. I read the scenes of injections and confined animals not as literal interpretation, but as metaphor to what the system represents.
- The growing demand for fresh, local food is evident in the vast rise in farmers markets across the country. In fact the USDA recently reported findings that registered farmers markets have increased by 80% in the last 10 years. Some estimate increases as high as 300% across the country, in small towns where farmers markets aren’t even officially registered and make up small roadside stands and community markets. Consumers are growing to recognize that fresh, in most cases, tastes better, and nothing is fresher than buying straight from the farm, where you can get to personally know your supplier and support the methods they practice. Chipotle’s motto is “Food with Integrity,” and they support local and organic practices where and when practical. That definition is in itself slippery, but it’s a stand they’re willing to put on billboards and their website. At the minimum it gets consumers thinking about what food with integrity even really means.
- Support for family farms is on the rise, even if Chipotle doesn’t always use family farmed product, and many consumers would rather have their grocery dollars go towards their local farm than a corporate conglomerate. Chipotle may not source 100% of their animal products and produce at any given time from family farms, but they at least attempt to, and do represent a growing concern among Americans, even city folk who don’t know beans about farming: Local family owned farms need our help and we are increasingly seeing the value in the food they provide for us. Support for small farms who raise animals humanely and are good stewards of the land by practicing sustainable farming techniques are on the rise, and some people who don’t even stand to benefit from the food they produce are willing to do what they can to support them. Recently, Primal Pastures, a small family farm that raises truly pastured animals in Temecula California, recently started a Kickstarter project with a goal to raise $40,000 to help expand their farm. They far exceeded that goal by raising almost $60,000, and backers were as far flung as Ohio, New Jersey, and New York. As Barbara Kingsolver wrote, “Underneath our stylish clothing it seems we are still animals, retaining some vestigial desire to sniff around the water hold and the food supply.”
- The do-it-yourself mentality is also on the rise, with urban gardens creeping up in many cities, and dwellers trying their hand at farming by raising chickens and even goats in their own backyards. This takes the mentality of knowing your farmer to a whole new level, and while the Chipotle video is all about doing it for you, their food with integrity motto and commitment to support local farms — even if not all the time — speaks to those concerned about the companies they support, and the ethics that they practice.
While we may not all agree on the true intentions of the new Chipotle video and its marketing campaign, or even the steadfast integrity of their business practices, I think we can all agree it gets you thinking. Food is precious, and we need to treat it as such. Many Americans are growing weary of the fast food, cheap and easy, prepackaged mold, and want to make a difference they can taste and see. Call me a naive victim of fancy advertising and slick marketing techniques, but I think Chipotle has a finger on the pulse of what many Americans are currently pondering when they make their food choices. Besides, why attack the company who’s intentionally trying to make a difference, even if they’re not perfect 100% of the time?
What do you think? Is the video misleading marketing propaganda, or did they get it right, even if done in a satirical way? As a side, I thought this interview by the company who created the video details what the various symbols really mean, was quite interesting.
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