Chipotle: Pure Imagination or Pure Manipulation?


Chipotle has set out on a quest to make fast-food sustainable. Their advertisement is a short animated film starring a farmer, the “Scarecrow”, in Chipotle’s new application-based game. This is a marketing stunt by Chipotle to advertise the freshness of their food and to take a stand against “factory farmed meats”. Factory farming in short is a result of the industrial revolution and the heightened demand for cheap meat. Large-scale farming operations have consumed smaller traditional farms and brought the concept of the assembly line to the food industry. The video trying to depict just that:


The video has received a lot of criticism because it is cited as misleading customers. Critics have attacked it for manipulating customers as seen by this video mocking the ad. The cover from the original video “Pure Imagination” gives way to “Pure Manipulation”. Chipotle is the large fast-food corporation, not the individual farmer it tries to portray. It has roughly 1,700 stores and has revenues of more than $4 billion. Agricultural producers, rightfully so, have responded angrily by misleading representation of their methods. Farmers are outraged because they are wrongly depicted and generalized as not caring for their land, livestock, or products. Chipotle’s integrity has been questioned numerous times for this video. Chipotle has also been attacked because not all of its food is necessarily as ethically produced.

It is an exaggeration and a generalization of the farm factories, but how far off is this representation? Chipotle is at least addressing the issue even if it is not really as natural as it claims to be. Other fast-food restaurants want to do the opposite and hide where their food is coming from. Chipotle at least deserves credit for bringing attention to an issue that needs to be brought closer to the public eye. As consumers we should be getting more conscious about the food we put into our bodies. But restaurants, grocery stores, and fast food places like Chipotle also need to become more conscious about what food they give to consumers. It is these fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s that have allowed for the industrialization for cheap meat.

Chipotle’s actual practices include buying pork from Niman (or similar suppliers) that are audited by a third-party certifier to make sure they meet strict animal-welfare standards. Chipotle also uses only antibiotic-free chicken raised in chicken houses where they get more space than in conventional operations. Chipotle stays away from cattle raised with antibiotics or growth hormones, however; only 80% of their beef meets this standard. Chipotle also attempts to source produce locally but only when it is practical (I was skeptical about this claim). Without an independent auditor or reporting standards of where their food comes from, we should be skeptical of Chipotle’s claims. (think about Apple auditing their own operations in Foxconn). Chipotle is doing something that no other traditional fast-food restaurants have tried to do. Although Chipotle is not perfectly ethical or honest, it is doing it as best as the business model allows it to be.

Chipotle is taking a lot of heat for this video, but I think it has asked the right questions and brought up good conversations. The message behind this video might not be 100% accurate but it is a step in the right direction for consumers and producers. Stay tuned for more as I will go deeper into Chipotle’s practices and also explore other aspects of Chipotle that are unethical.

Also, is serving a 1,200 calorie meal ethical? Does it make it okay if their ingredients are ethically produced? See how many calories are in your burrito.

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7 thoughts on “Chipotle: Pure Imagination or Pure Manipulation?”

  1. I think Chipotle will be an interesting company to focus on. As you mentioned, it is doing what few other fast-food chains are doing by providing greater transparency to its customers. They clearly put effort into making their food operations more ethical. I think a question that you could further research is how their operations have changed since they became a public corporation? How significantly have their ethics and ideals changed since the time they were a small company based in Colorado?

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  2. I’d say 80% of beef being antibiotic-free is a pretty big step. What can the other fast food places claim?

    Can you find some of the critics? Are they ACTUALLY suppliers to Chipotle?

    You might want to look into Mc Donald’s and Taco Bell trying to create hipster-friendly places that emulate Chipotle and Panera….

    American Taco Company or something like that?

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  3. I used to think that fast-food and sustainable were two words that can never go together, but I think Chipotle is doing a good job incorporating the two terms into its business plan, and can even be considered a leading example in this specific category.

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  4. You could use consequentialism/utilitarianism to look at Chipotle. In one sense, some of the critics may be using a kind of naive deontology: Chipotle is not upholding the “rights” of animals ALL the time and therefore it is failing morally.

    The interesting organizational issue, in a way, is how much of the cost of better sourcing practices should be internalized. In economics, they love to talk about externalities. The ethical burden of mistreating animals is born by customers, suppliers, and the critters. The economic cost of pollution tied to intensive farming is born by people other than those buying the McWhopper Chickwich, or whatever it is fast food places sell. If Chipotle or McDonald’s, I don’t care who does it, decides to stop externalizing those costs, that would be interesting. Is it sustainability ethics? A more transparent consequentialism?

    You could also look at the ethics of representation and authenticity. Is Chipotle being honest?

    In terms of policy, obviously there are lots of angles. Obesity, healthy food, the decline of eating together and hence family social capital (that is a thing), local economies, farming systems, supply chains, ethical sourcing and so on and so on.

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