Chipotle, Forever 21, and standing on grace

A couple of weeks ago, Chipotle released a hauntingly beautiful animated video advertisement showcasing Fiona Apple (a vegan & animal rights advocate) singing the Pure Imagination song from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.  To quote my fellow blogger Kelly, the video short “paints a fantastical picture of what food production is. Animals are handled by robots, as part of an assembly-line factory run by crows. The products that come out at the end are referred to as ‘beef-ish’ and the scarecrow we journey through the video alongside of seems uncomfortable with what he witnesses. [The scarecrow then has a revelation in his garden at home and opens a produce stand or vegetarian taco truck of some sort.] Truly, it’s a breath-taking instance of advertising. The imagery is powerful, the metaphors are strong, and even having been on more farms than I can count, I was uncomfortable.”

The video is a no-joke attack on Big Food.  There’s some real issues with their depiction of food production and real implications of its message.  As you might imagine, ag industry and farm bloggers are up in arms.  As is my husband.  And though I’ve only been directly involved in the industry for a few months, I found my own blood boiling a bit.

Chipotle, with a market capitalization larger than either Tyson or Smithfield (two of the biggest meat producers in the nation), is definitely Big Food, as well.  While their marketing department has said they’re just trying to start a conversation about food, that’s not exactly the case.  It’s clear that their overall main motivation as a business is selling burritos, not just educating consumers about food, or even just promoting “conscientious” food.  Chipotle continues to sell burritos even when their supply of non-conventionally raised meat runs out.  And they’re using their pretty little video to attack my friends who work so hard to provide safe, affordable food for the world.  I believe strongly in consumer and producer choice, and it all feels so hypocritical and frustrating and full of lies and at the end of the day, I have to admit that Chipotle hurt my feelings.

I’ve thought a lot about burritos since the video was released.  I’ve seen bloggers and Twitterers say that they’re boycotting (or continuing to boycott) Chipotle.  Vote with your dollars, they say!  But you see, we love Chipotle.  It’s less than a 1/2 mile from our house, and it’s one of our favorite quick-stop places to grab dinner.  I figure we probably eat at Chipotle at least twice a month.  We are their target market.  What might happen if I boycott Chipotle? What if I take a stand?

What happens if I boycott Chipotle but continue to buy cheap shirts by the dozen at Forever 21?  See, F21 has a D- rating with Free2Work, which means they use child labor or forced labor in their supply chain.   Or if I continue to buy toys for my niece made by Mattel or spices from McCormick?  I believe in consumer and producer choice, and I also (maybe even more so) believe in children not being trafficked or forced to work in sweat shops.

What happens if I boycott Chipotle but continue to keep my eyes fixed ahead at the stoplight instead of really seeing the homeless guy on the side of the road and offering him a smile and a dollar or two, or a cup of coffee?  What happens if I boycott Chipotle but let my impatience and pride get the best of me?   It all feels so hypocritical and overwhelming, really.

If I can pick just one thing to stand on, is burritos the right thing?

I need grace.  I need grace for the people at Chipotle who made a video that hurt my feelings.  I need grace for my friends who don’t understand production agriculture and inadvertently say things that I find hurtful.  I need grace for myself, who doesn’t understand much of anything at all and too often has a mean spirit and unforgiving heart. I need grace to find the plank that blinds me.

So the next time you eat a burrito, from Chipotle or made at home, maybe pray for grace. I’ll stand on grace.

For further reading about some of the issues with the video, check out these articles:
Washington Post | Dairy Carrie | Media Bistro

5 thoughts on “Chipotle, Forever 21, and standing on grace

  1. Janna

    When I first saw the video I thought it was hauntingly beautiful, until the end when I saw it was a commercial for Chipotle. I honestly expected it to be something produced by an Ag group or a buy local group.
    The fact that a big business tried to knock down other big businesses (granted not by name) made me “mad” at the big business. Had it not been a “commercial” for Chipotle and had there been a small sponsored by Chipotle at the end it would have made me investigate Chipotles policies and practices. But as it stands it just made me look at them as another chain restaurant with a good marketing team using my emotions to try and get me to buy a burrito.

    I like your comments and thoughts on “is this what I am goin to stand behind” I always “laugh” when people say they are boycotting this or that bc of some popular trend or because the CEO made some comment once when they were in college. What ever happened to love thy neighbor and forgiveness and as you said Grace.

  2. Micah Yost

    Interesting. From a completely different, but just as relevant and morally important perspective, I find myself asking, “is it a good advertisement”? I think it is in the sense that it has “viral buzz” and it attaches their brand to a very defined and activated community. Most of the “anti” articles involve a sentence like, “I still eat there anyway”. Still, the add is very short term thinking. It’s fleeting success – the internet buzz that is here today and gone by lunchtime. It’s a manipulation (as many adds are), and I think that’s why there is the backlash. You can’t sustainably build your image on “false truth” – a lack of authenticity. To contrast, I much prefer what Panera did. It didn’t get the same viral buzz, but it’s a more sustainable and authentic message. In the long run, I think this more effectively builds a brand.

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