Joni Keefe
Special to The Aspen Times

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March 2, 2014
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Farms Finest: Entering the fast-food lane with healthy options

Fast-food chains are hitching up to the farm wagon for marketing their products just like everyone, it seems, in today’s food industry is. Loosely used words like “natural,” “organic” and “free range” are worked into menus and advertising. Barns, cows, chickens and pigs have become the latest stars for the role in healthy choices.

Chipotle, though, has risen to a new level for fast-food marketing with a series of videos called “Farmed and Dangerous.” Some say publicity is good no matter how you get it, but for many, these videos are questionable.

Chipotle is a chain of fast-food restaurants with a Southwestern menu consisting of burritos, tacos and salads. This Denver chain was started in 1993, and McDonald’s became the owner in 1998 after a multimillion-dollar purchase. This infusion of money helped the small local chain expand quickly with new stores across the country.

In 2006, McDonald’s sold the company and Chipotle became a member of the New York Stock Exchange. The popular chain continues to grow with huge success. It considers itself unique in the world of fast-food because it claims to be sustainable, local and eco-friendly. Its website explains in detail about the restaurants high standards for naturally raised beef and pork, by purchasing 100 percent of product only from those producers that follow guidelines of what Chipotle calls naturally raised. (It should be noted that this level of quality is based on its own standards.) Chipotle proudly refers to itself as “redefining the fast-food experience.”

Having an option for “healthier fast food” is good for the consumer. For Chipotle to use words like “healthy” and “fast food” in one sentence has proven to be a golden egg. Its marketing is equally set apart as seen with its latest “Farmed and Dangerous” videos. This four-part series is a satire about industrial farming and an imaginary company called Animoil. This twisted humor involves blowing up cud-chewing cows while they are being served a petroleum-based grain and many other scenes of livestock and dead stock. The star of the show is, of course, named “Chip.” The company hopes these videos will promote the company values for sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of animals, which Chipotle executives are calling “value integration.”

The New York Times, on Jan. 27, called the series “a full-throated attack on industrial agriculture, complete with a Dr. Strangelove-like scientist inventing eight-winged chickens and cash bribes being delivered in gift boxes.”

Farming groups also find little humor, with the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation saying, “Chipotle’s latest marketing ploy is simply divisive propaganda. We hope that consumers see through this smear campaign against America’s farm families by a corporate restaurant chain.”

No matter how absurd the script, the initial shock alone will probably produce a laugh. But there is something just not quite right here. I find myself wondering if Chipotle really does “get it” when it comes to understanding concentrated animal-feeding operations.

Raising chemically laden vegetable crops for food is an entirely different debate from the massive factories producing food from stockpiles of animals. I wonder how we could get a constructive conversation started on such a dark subject. I commend Chipotle for trying to do something, but I am left with a feeling that it is just a cheap shot at inhumane practices that we should be ashamed of.

If a company told real concentrated animal-feeding operations stories, it certainly would not boost its sales. That brings up another point: If Chipotle really wants to lead the way for improving practices in concentrated animal-feeding operations, it should not be used as a part of a corporate marketing plan. Instead, why not offer help to an unbiased organization like the Humane Society’s Rural Development and Outreach Program. It is establishing state councils and requesting for humane standards to be used in commercial agriculture.

Another organization with good information and a free newsletter is “Meatless Mondays,” which advocates a plant-based diet with fewer animal products. It’s another not-for-profit, global organization.

If nothing else, thank you, Chipotle, for getting some type of conversation started. Just know which side of the bread to butter.

Joni Keefe currently works for a commercial airline while continuing to write about agriculture and food. Follow Farms Finest on Twitter, on Facebook and in The Aspen Times on Sundays.


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The Aspen Times Updated Mar 2, 2014 12:00AM Published Mar 2, 2014 12:00AM Copyright 2014 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.