Chipotle, I am skeptical of your “revolución!”  »

So, Chipotle is calling for an end to the mistreatment of pigs, and now I feel conflicted.

My attention was alerted to this call to arms by the very excellent Suicide Food Blog, which has written up the Mexican food chain in its Monday, Sept. 20 post. Chipotle has a new ad campaign, and it’s all about feeling good about what we eat. The ad in question is actually printed on Chipotle’s bags and features a hip, hand-drawn-looking manifesto, complete with cute little drawings and flourishes. The text reads:

¡Viva La Revolución! Okay Pigs, It’s time for us to get together and start fixing this system. We see the way that our pig friends get treated at their factory farms, and it’s time we fight so all pigs can have the same rights we have! No more tight, confining pens! No more antibiotics or non-vegetarian feed!!!!!!!! We can do it! Yours Truly, el Pig”

Now, I’m all for a total pig revolution, and failing that, I’m all for reforms that lead to better lives for pigs, but I’m not sure I buy it coming from Chipotle. As this post on points out, major companies that consume a lot of animal product calling for better treatment for pigs is a good thing with the potential to positively impact a lot of piggies’ lives. And that’s all well and good, but a slick, focus-grouped advertisement on a fast-food takeout bag does not an actual, accountable commitment to animal welfare make. Is Chipotle going to use meat only from pigs who were not raised in confining pens and were given vegetarian feed? Who knows!

I find this ad to be more of a call to complacency than anything else, which disturbs me. A major restaurant chain is co-opting revolutionary language and imagery to sell “ethical pork” to what it must know is an uneducated population—how many of Chipotle’s customers know about harmful pig-farming practices, animal welfare issues, or animal agriculture at all.

The Chipotle website dedicates a full section to “Food with Integrity,” which functions basically as their dictionary. According to Chipotle, “Naturally raised” means “raised in a humane way, fed a vegetarian diet, never given hormones, and allowed to display their natural tendencies.” There’s a lot that that warm-n-fuzzy definition doesn’t cover: the contents of the vegetarian diet; how often the pigs are bred; how long they’re allowed to live before being sent to slaughter; and what kind of stockyards and feedlots they are sent to come slaughter-time. By creating their own animal agriculture lexicon, Chipotle gives customers license to feel good about eating their Chipotle pork products without any verifiable reasons to. The company’s ultimate goal is perfectly clear: “We believe pigs that are cared for in this way enjoy happier, healthier lives and produce the best pork we’ve ever tasted.” And there you have it. While Chipotle may want pigs to lead better lives, their bottom line is how good the pigs taste, and that isn’t something I can get behind.

I’m not writing off this campaign completely. As I mentioned, if this move toward more humanely raised pigs is sincere, then it is a good thing; and more than most fast food chains are willing to do. Further, as the article points out, sometimes this kind of incremental, populist movement can be the thing that starts people down the road to veganism, and that’s great. Still, though, as a vegan, I’m uncomfortable with trumpeting a corporate happy-meat ad campaign as a real step forward, not to mention that I’d feel like a hella sellout carrying my vegan burrito in one of these cheeseball bags.

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