Chipotle Mexican Grill has launched a campaign to save farming. I’m not sure what is more surprising, that farming needs to be saved or that Chipotle – a company that has slandered farmers with misleading PR campaigns for years – thinks it has the answers.
Actually, Chipotle’s new initiative is quite admirable with its focus on helping young farmers. Unfortunately, the fast-casual burrito restaurant’s new campaign continues to defame farmers and ranchers by implying the work you do does not produce “real food.”
Last week Chipotle announced it will offer three-year contracts to farmers under 40 years old who meet the chain’s “food with integrity” standards. Chipotle also said it would increase its local sourcing in 2020 and said it would fund seed grants to support young farmers. The seed grants initiative is a partnership with the Young Farmers Coalition and the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation which began with a Farmer Friday event in which a dollar from every entrée purchased via the chain’s app or website will go toward the grants up to $250,000.
In a statement, Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol said, “Farmers committed to farming in a sustainable and ethical way need help to have a chance to succeed – both for the sake of the future of real nutritious food and the communities that rely on those farms.”
The statement from Chipotle said as a follow-up to the Farmer Friday event, the company will have a “Cultivate the Future of Farming” float in the Rose Parade New Year’s Day and will donate $1, up to $250,000, to the National Young Farmers Coalition for every post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using #farmers on January 1, 2020. Young farmers will ride the float, highlighting real ingredients and celebrating the next generation of local growers.
"We are able to keep raising pigs because we have these great customers and supporters, like Chipotle, that care about where their food comes from and are buying product that's raised sustainably, and ethically, and as a result, are supporting families just like mine," said Elle Gadient, Farmer Advocate for Niman Ranch.
New, creative initiatives such as Chipotle’s that help young farmers should be applauded. But it’s long past time for Chipotle to ditch the offensive wording used in its press releases and end its holier-than-thou attitude. For instance, the company’s statement announcing the contracts for young farmers carried this headline and subhead: “Chipotle’s Commitment To Real Food Drives The Future Of Farming,” and “The brand seeks to reinvigorate a fading industry for younger generations with its food with integrity principles.” By default then, Chipotle is saying what the rest of the industry produces is “fake food.”
If this was Chipotle’s first time out of the gate with its “food with integrity” language you might overlook it as insensitive. But the fact remains that Chipotle has besmirched the integrity of farmers for years.
Here’s a sample of events that should make farmers and ranchers wary of Chipotle’s intentions:
- On its website in 2011 Chipotle offered free tickets to Food, Inc., the documentary narrated by activist Eric Schlosser.
- In 2012 Chipotle’s advertising campaign “Back to the Start” was its first attempt to win customers by making enemies with farmers through propaganda.
- The first thing many customers see upon entering a Chipotle restaurant is a sign proclaiming, "No prescription needed." That's in reference to the fact Chipotle claims to use pork, beef and chicken from animals raised without antibiotics.
- In 2015, founder and then CEO Steve Ells told the New York Times, "Just because food is served fast doesn't mean it has to be made with cheap raw ingredients, highly processed with preservatives and fillers and stabilizers and artificial colors and flavors."
- In 2013 Chipotle released its controversial “Scarecrow” video that was named the worst advertisement of 2013 by The Wall Street Journal. “Scarecrow” was another volley in its war against traditional farmers.
- In 2014 Chipotle funded the "Farmed and Dangerous" mini-series that the company said "satirizes the lengths to which corporate agribusiness and its image-makers go to create a positive image of industrial agriculture."
- In 2015 some Chipotle restaurants introduced some consumers to E. coli, salmonella and norovirus, a health and PR crisis that caused the company’s stock price to plummet.
So, I’ll wait to see how Chipotle’s new campaign to help young farmers works before I pass judgement. I hope – for the sake of some young farmers – it becomes a great success. In the meantime, I hope Chipotle will recognized the damage they have done to older farmers and stop selling their burritos with propaganda that demeans traditional farmers and ranchers.