Can you sell ice to an Eskimo? Chipotle, one of the nation’s fastest growing 1,000 calorie burrito sellers, thinks it can. In fact, Chipotle is banking on it. In its self-proclaimed “never ending journey” to source the “highest quality ingredients it can find,” Chipotle announced this week it was dropping GMO ingredients from its menu.
Cashing in on a consuming public that’s widely disconnected from where its food comes from has become Chipotle’s specialty in a time and place where Americans can spell GMO, but most couldn’t tell you what it stands for (other than to likely insinuate that it’s somehow bad for you – hence the need for Chipotle to explain both on their website).
Chipotle might know how to make a burrito, but it is even better at marketing itself as standing on some type of higher moral ground that everyone else seems to fall short of (remember the whole idea that Chipotle only uses meat that come from animals raised in certain ways).
The irony of Chipotle is that the company is basically built on the concept of shunning technology while marketing to a population that’s so in-tune to it that you’d be hard pressed to find a Kindergartner who couldn’t run your iphone (chances are you’re reading this on a tech device your great-grandpa, in his time, would think came from another planet).
While chasing tech savy consumers’ dollars, Chipotle, oddly enough, has demonized farmers and farming practices over the years that are very much a product of technological improvement over time, whether it involves how farm animals are housed or the seeds farmers put in the ground.
Even more ironic on Chipotle’s GMO stance, is the reality that, from a big picture perspective, there really is no such thing as GMO-free food products. Nature has been making GMOs since, well…the beginning of time. While science has developed the practice of introducing new traits into organisms in a scientific setting, similar cross hybridization has been happening in nature forever. The study of such genetic manipulation has been occurring as early as the 19th Century at the hands of an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel who was the first to study how genetic traits were passed between different species of peas.
Henry Miller at Forbes hit the proverbial nail on the head in his piece “Chipotle, the Strangest Restaurant Menu Ever” questioning Chipotle’s “no genetic modification” promise. Miller correctly pointed out that virtually every food comes from an organism that has been genetically modified in some way at some time, scientific setting or otherwise.
In a capitalistic society, there’s nothing wrong with Chipotle catering to its perceived customer base. However, by eliminating GMO ingredients from their menu under the guise of “food with integrity”, Chipotle sends a message that using GMOs somehow demonstrates a lack of integrity, even though USDA has said GMOs are safe to grow, EPA has said they are safe for the environment, and the Food and Drug Administration has said they are safe to eat.
At the end of the day, Chipotle isn’t obligated to talk about Mother Nature’s role in tinkering with the genetics of our food, nor tell the whole story of GMOs. Having an understanding of that falls squarely on us as consumers. Whether or not you choose to buy into the idea that Chipotle can actually sell something that’s truly GMO-free, is up to you.
But you should probably ask yourself…do I want some ice with that?