Steve Ellis opened the first Chipotle in Denver, Colorado in 1993. The original Chipotle and its subsequent locations achieved rapid and tremendous success. By 1999, Chipotle had begun opening restaurants outside of Colorado, starting with locations in Minneapolis, MN and Columbus, OH.
Yet rather than focus solely on expansion and profit, Ellis chose that time to make sure he was serving the best food possible. His research led him to the article The Lost Taste of Pork by Edward Behr. According to Ellis, Behr’s article and the investigating it prompted taught him ‘quite a bit about the way most of the food in the US is produced and processed….Pigs are raised in stark confinement, produce is grown on vast factory farms with little or no regard for the environment, and dairy cows are confined and injected with hormones that can make them ill in an effort to increase their milk production.’
After reading Behr’s article, Ellis visited several Animal Feeding Operations, which are defined by the EPA as ‘agricultural operations [that] congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area.’ To be classified as such, animals must be confined for at least 45 days in a 12-month period and have no grass or other vegetation in the confinement area. There are currently about 257,000 Animal Feeding Operations in the US.
Ellis then released a mission statement for Chipotle entitled Food with Integrity.
That was in 2001. A link to Behr’s article can still be found on Chipotle’s website, a gesture that is just the tip of the iceberg of Ellis’ commitment to running Chipotle in a way that ‘doesn’t exploit animals, people, or the environment.’ An entire section of Chipotle’s website is now dedicated to explaining how they put the concept of Food with Integrity into practice.
In 2011, Chipotle founded the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, a non-profit organisation ‘committed to creating a more sustainable and healthful food supply and to raising awareness concerning food issues. This is realized through the support of family farmers and their communities, educators and programs that teach younger generations about food matters, along with support for ranchers and farmers who are working to develop more sustainable practices.’ Since its foundation, the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation has ‘contributed more than $2 million to help fund initiatives that support sustainable agriculture, family farming, culinary education, and innovation that promotes better food.’
That same year, Chipotle released an incredibly moving animated short set to Willie Nelson’s rendition of Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist.’ The short tells the story of a farmer’s journey from small family farm to inhumane factory farm back to the start, which also happens to be the film’s name.
A few days ago, they released another animated short, The Scarecrow. This time accompanied by Fiona Apple’s ‘Pure Imagination’ from Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the short is even grimmer story. Chipotle themselves describe it best:
In a dystopian fantasy world, all food production is controlled by fictional industrial giant Crow Foods. Scarecrows have been displaced from their traditional role of protecting food, and are now servants to the crows and their evil plans to dominate the food system. Dreaming of something better, a lone scarecrow sets out to provide an alternative to the unsustainable processed food from the factory.
While food production and distribution are indeed in a scary state, it would be all the worse without companies like Chipotle who recognise the power of one strong, steadfast voice of dissent to create real change. Every voice who joins their chorus will only facilitate faster realisation of the goals for which we should all be striving. So for the love of animals and the planet, go eat a burrito!