Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chipotle's Simple Story

“The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps” (Proverbs 14:15, The Holy Bible).
Have you seen this Chipotle commercial, an animated feature with accompaniment by Willie Nelson?

Chipotle makes it look like Good vs. Bad is as identifiable as Domestic vs. Industrialized Farming. Stop right there! This is where we need to Think about how we know Good Guys from Bad Guys. First, is it ever fair to make such a blanket statement, to say that local organic farmers are inherently Good, while corporate farmers are inherently Bad? What if the line of Good and Bad were drawn down the heart of every farmer (not to mention everyone), measured out with every decision he or she makes? Let’s “give thought to our steps” here and process what we’ve just watched with "prudent" questioning.

  1. Is it bad to fence in a pig? Is it bad to build fences in general? Almost all breeds of livestock were bred by humans that desired for their animals to be dependent on them for protection and food. This keep them from wanting to run away, and the livestock animals we have now are not built for survival in the “wild.” They are genetically wired to be satisfied by the human care they are given, as well as produce milk, meat, and wool to a greater extent than their wild cousins do. That means their nutritional needs are more than what a wild environment can supply. Indeed, fenceless swine farming is widely in practice, far more so than free-ranging cattle. These pigs still roam free and are an absolute menace to the environment, human safety, and agriculture of the southeastern U.S.
  2. Is it wrong to build an enclosed, climate-controlled barn for dairy cattle? Visit a dairy. These cows have a sweet life. Remember, unlike humans, animals don’t believe they have a “right” to A/C anyway.
  3. Could the space they have be adequate for animal happiness and health, while minimizing the environmental impact and landmass impact of each additional pig? Land is precious here on this planet of 70% water.  See Is the Grass(-Finished Beef) AlwaysGreener? And also Capper, 2009
  4. Do pigs really grow in a crate and then fall 2 stories down to an assembly line? Um, no. See these Swine Welfare Research documents if you’re curious about the pork industry, and Hard to Swallow.
  5. Are they fed elephantine capsules and given an evil green witch’s brew? Um, no, but antibiotics are used to combat swine illness…see’s rationale for antibiotic use and Vive la résistance? (Antibiotics).
  6. Do they grow unnaturally large? Do they receive hormones? ARTIFICIAL* HORMONES ARE ILLEGAL IN RAISING PORK. (*artificial = any hormones introduced into an animal's body in addition to ones internally produced)
  7. Are they mechanically transformed into meat? Pork is always hand-butchered unless you are consuming a processed product that specifically lists in its ingredients “Mechanically Separated Pork. 
  8. Do they receive drugs? Does green slime get into our water supply? CAFOs and packing plants are stringently regulated and must abide by an oblivion of EPA rules. Free-range farms may allow animals to freely excrete in waterways with far less accountability. See EPA’s CAFO Regulations and the National Resource Conservation Service on livestock operations
  9. Does the final halcyon farm scene demonstrate the best relationship between farm animals and people, or can deep care and affection for animals exist in the industrialized scene? See Feedlot, Rediscovered
  10. I'm going back to the start...when the ancestors of domesticated pigs roamed free with Adam and Eve on the planet? Can we take 7 billion people with us “back to the start”? See…Capper, 2009  and Organic, Or Not?   
  11. We are asked to cultivate a better world, but better in what way?…reducing world hunger, reducing environmental impact, increasing the aestheticism of agriculture…? See (Re)Defining the Terms
  12. Um, What’s in it for Chipotle?
  13. What do you Think?


  1. 1.I appreciate your thoughts on this but I took a different view. I don't think you can seperate Good vs Bad farms by saying orgainc vs conventional. There are bad on both sides. You mentioned cows laying in a dairy barn and its sweet. I am a dairy farmer, and I can tell you they like to be lazy, and lay in the barn you are right. Although you should see how happy they are when I put them out on pasture. There is no sweeter sound then when you let them on a fresh paddock and there is silence other than 50 mouths chomping away.
    2.You also mentioned hormones and antibiotics for pork production and that they are neccesary.Did you ever think why? Maybe since we stuck 5000 hogs on a slatted floor above a pit of manure and then put a sealed building around it of course there will be some sickness and diease. Maybe if they had more access to fresh air and sun less antibiotics would be needed. Have you ever spent much time in a hog finishing floor barn. There are better places out there.
    3. There are no artifical hormones used in pork production. Testerone is natural it doesn't mean we should all give our children shots of testerone so they can play on the football team; why beacuse its not healthy.
    4. All of your points were valid and correct, but there is more than one angle. Our food system has become faster and more efficent than any other in the world, but we sacrifised quality along the way. Everything is produced on the cheapest margin possible with chemicals. Ever stop to think why cancer is 5 times more common now than 1920's when everyone smoked?
    Just thoughts from a farmer......

  2. Thank you so much for your post. You are absolutely correct when you say there is more than one angle. I wish more people realized that. I am very glad you are in the business you're in, and that you care for your animals the way that you do. I did several grazing studies at Tx A&M and my preference also was to be outside in the paddocks or in my native prairie plot rather than inside a barn, even an air conditioned one in Southeast Texas!
    I'll clarify what is meant by "no artificial hormones" in pork production. If you visit the USDA link and do some further searching on your own, you'll find that no added hormones whatsoever are to be used in pork production. There are no shots, no implants, no feed additives ever given. The only hormones in an American pig's body are the ones they make themselves, whether conventional, organic, natural, or your own household pet! Furthermore, hormones are never, ever injected. They are always either consumed with feed or administered via slow release implants (similar to the Implanon birth control implant for women). If you are curious about hormones, I encourage you to visit my post back in May to find out more about them. If you have any further questions, I would be happy to get as detailed as the biochemical pathways and electron movements, I'll walk with you as far down the road as you like!
    But I'll return to your main point. There is more than one angle. I appreciate that you said that. Would you agree that both conventional and organic can coexist for different reasons, to meet different needs? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

  3. I realized I didn't mention what I noticed about the cattle's preferences. You're right, whenever I let them out of the barn periodically, they would lope out into the paddock, throw their heads, and play with each other and re-establish their pecking order all over again. It was so much fun to 7am. Then, the funny thing was, by 11am they all crowded up under a sheltered portion of the paddock to get to the shade and get out of the heat! They were happy to almost lie down on top of one another (there was plenty of room in the shade though) just because they're herd animals with a narrow concept of personal space and they wanted to be comfortable. My assessment of this whole scene was that they 1) enjoyed varying their environments between outdoors and indoors and 2) enjoyed maintaining a comfortable temperature.
    This idea aside, it would also behoove you to look at Dr. Capper's work. There's a link to her 2009 paper on why in the heck industrialized agriculture got the way it was...the rationale, the advancements, and the advantages it has in surprising ways. Please take a look. I love that we have a choice of many agricultural options in this country.