Selling Ice to Eskimos: Chipotle Goes GMO-Free

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 Chipotle blog1couldn’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?

What Pork Shortage, Chipotle?

Well, Chipotle is at it again. They announced they are experiencing a pork shortage because one of their suppliers violated their housing agreement for pigs. The company demands its suppliers raise pigs in “humane conditions with access to the outdoors, rather than in cramped pens.” With that producer’s violation, Chipotle is now refusing to buy their pork, which means no carnitas for customers at more than 1700 locations across the country, including restaurants in Nebraska. But guess what?! THERE IS NO PORK SHORTAGE!

Thousands upon thousands of perfectly healthy and happy pigs are being raised right here in Nebraska in barns like this.

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Plenty of room here!

Now of course Chipotle wants you to believe pigs are better off outside, but that simply doesn’t mean a better pork product. That’s why farms utilize nutrition, health care, genetics and just plain proper management. Winter is cruel to any animal, especially pigs. Frostbitten ears and noses, pneumonia, frozen water source, the list goes on and on. The indoor facilities not only provide more than enough space, but they use the latest technology to control temperature, humility and air quality. And the pigs are automatically feed and receive plenty of water. While we brave the 20 below winter, the pigs are sitting pretty at 70 degree every day.

You ask why would Chipotle insist free-range is better? It’s all about marketing. The public is so far removed from agriculture they still picture the farmer of the 40’s.

And Chipotle cashes in.farmer tech

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But guess what?! Farming has come a long way and to keep up with demand, farmers have to adapt, use new technologies and embrace a better way of doing things.

In the end it comes down to choice. Chipotle is choosing not to serve “conventionally raised” pork and you and I can choose to get our burrito somewhere else.

 

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Chipotle’s Marketing Campaign

advertisingChipotle’s newest marketing campaign, “The Scarecrow,” has gotten quite the buzz over the past few weeks. Growing up on a family farm, I was quickly offended when I saw the video, as I know that the practices used on my families’ farm look nothing like what is portrayed in the scarecrow video.

However, due to a stint working at an advertising agency, I was also quick to remember “The Scarecrow” is just a marketing campaign.

An Ad.

A Promotion.

Whatever you want to call it, it was developed to promote sales at their restaurants. The portion I struggle with is that, while the commenters and reviewers seem more than happy to spend their hard earned money at a corporate restaurant chain, farmers and ranchers become the bad guys for providing for their family using technology and modern practices.

Personally, I believe that people should have the right to choose what they purchase for their family to eat, and farmers and ranchers have always met consumer demand whether it be by the practice used to raise the food, by price or by quality.

We are in a world where the average person is three generations removed from the farm, and in the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”

It’s not a bad thing to not know, but when opinions fuel emotions and emotions become published facts via social media – that’s scary.

A few articles I’d recommend –

More on perspectives, CAFO: “The Auschwitz of Livestock?”

For more on what the labels on your food actually mean, read Combating Label Confusion.

Learn more about different sizes of farms in A Tale of Two Farmers.

– Kassi Williams is a proud farmer’s daughter raised up on a cow/calf and grain farm.