We watched three documentaries about food and agriculture during the off-season: "Food Beware," "Supersize Me," and "Food Inc.," all of which we recommend to you all. We wanted to share some thoughts here that these movies spawned by focusing on the restaurant chain Chipotle. The founder of Chipotle was interviewed in an addition to the movie "Food Inc." We've never been to a Chipotle chain, but listening to the interview and reading about Chipotle on their website, it's clear that they are a leading example of the organic movement. What struck us, though, was how little it takes to be a leading example. We're inclined at first to think their standards are so weak as to be worthless. On the other hand, we don't really know of a restaurant that holds itself to any stricter standards. To gain some perspective on the whole organic movement, we wanted to point out what organic standards like Chipotle's do and don't mean. How would you, as a consumer, evaluate their organic claims? If you want to take the time, to understand better what we're responding to, we'd encourage you to first read what Chipotle says on their website about what they call "food with integrity."
Here are some things we see. The chickens Chipotle buys aren't given antibiotics and they're given marginally more space than other chickens, but they're still made of fully conventional grains, and they're still crowded in confinement houses. Their chickens are given zero freedom to forage naturally for grubs and worms or anything green or fresh -- this is perversely touted as an all vegetarian diet. The chicks meanwhile come from farms that don't follow any organic practices at all. Their pork is similarly fed fully conventional grains (pesticides, herbicides, interspecies genetic modifications, etc.), and farmers can give the hogs pharmaceutical injections so long as they follow protocols for preventing retained needles. The dairies that supply Chipotle can also keep cows crowded in confinement houses, not eating any fresh grass, use antibiotics, and use hormone injections for reproductive management (just not rBGH.) Separating from the industrial system that dominates American agriculture is incredibly difficult, and Chipotle doesn't claim to have fully arrived, but the big question is where their approach will take us. At the very least we should recognize that there's a very viable marketing niche heading in the same direction as the rest of industrial agriculture, just one step behind. There's no real hope in that. We think we need to be careful and work hard to put more integrity in our cause and to really seek after a more fully separate and self-sufficient system of agriculture. Of course, we have to start where we are, and that's tightly bound and interconnected to our industrial system, but the sheer size and momentum of the industrial system will surely drag us further along with it if we don't pursue real independence seriously.
It seems to us that the real problem is that various forms of industrialization (mechanization, labor-saving chemicals, pharmaceuticals, artificial fertilizers, artificial draft power, etc.) have gradually destroyed the system and culture of working knowledge, shared community, and face-to-face accountability that is our only trustworthy protection against industrial abuses. It seems good to focus even more on shortening supply lines (for example, eating more home-prepared meals from more locally sourced raw ingredients) and on regaining real personal and community control of our food system (all the way back to the source of the manure that fertilizes the crops that feed our animals.) It seems to us that any other strategy will only come back around to bite us in the rear.