Chipotle stunned followers recently when it launched a pro-farmer advertisement campaign. Early in December the company donated money to the National Coalition of Young Farmers. And later it hosted a farmer-friendly float at the Rose Bowl Parade. Chipotle donated another dollar to the coalition for every tweet including the hashtag #farmers during the parade. It’s website also boasts a new page dedicated to farmers.
So, uh, what the heck is going on?
It’s no secret that Chipotle generally doesn’t like modern agriculture. For years it’s attacked conventional farm families through advertising campaigns and stunts. From it’s “Food with Integrity” campaign to The Scarecrow, Chipotle has used farmers as a punching bag. It’s built a brand on telling consumers that farmers are the reason you’re sick, tired, and fat. And only Chipotle knows how to choose growers with quality and nutritious food.
Yet now they’ve launched a public-relations campaign trying to bolster our agriculture communities. Because farmers have it pretty tough these days, and Chipotle cares. As my friend Kevin Folta wrote, do you really care if you’re the one who caused the problem?
Seriously, what is going on here? Because what I know for sure is that Chipotle doesn’t give two cents about American farmers.
Here’s my hypothesis. Chipotle had a problem. It’s told consumers for years that its trying to source sustainable vegetables, humanely raised meat, and do the right thing. That’s what real farmers want anyway. But farmers literally hate Chipotle. Literally. Farmers have spoken out time and time again that we don’t like these marketing tactics. That we take it personally and that it isn’t fair.
So how can you be doing right by eaters and farmers if the latter hates you?
Chipotle needed a rebrand to fix that problem. So it found the National Coalition of Young Farmers. I’ll admit I’m not really well versed on this organization because I’ve never come across it before. But a little bit of digging into their website makes me very skeptical of what they’re trying to sell. Its website makes it seem like a great champion for young farmers. But its main sponsors are Chipotle, Farm Aid, and a bunch of organic companies (albeit there are also some more respected industry partners, like Farm Credit, with smaller donations). And it seems to focus on solely small farms (I mean, small, like 30-acres small).
Maybe on a more cynical note, Chipotle used all those campaigns attacking farmers to set a narrative. It wants consumers to be afraid of the food they’re eating. So now it can spend big bucks rebuilding U.S. agriculture in its own image.
Don’t let Chipotle fool you. It hasn’t changed anything. It hasn’t had a sudden change of heart. And it hasn’t become the #1 supporter of U.S. farmers. It’s still the same ol’ fast-food chain that thinks it knows better than farmers how to produce healthy food.
Why do I think so? Because its website still says things like “We source from farms rather than factories…” (I don’t know any food “sourced” from factories). And it boasts things like this:
While industrial farming practices have evolved to maximize profits and production, we make an extra effort to partner with farmers, ranchers, and other suppliers whose practices emphasize quality and responsibility.
That’s not a company that just decided to partner with American farmers instead of dumping on them. This is the same Chipotle we’ve all come to hate.
This quote sums it up quite nicely. Brian Niccol, Chipotle’s CEO said:
Farmers committed to farming in a sustainable and ethical way need help to have a chance to succeed–both for the sake of the future of real nutritious food and the communities that rely on those farms.
Folks, Chipotle doesn’t care about American farmers. It only cares about farmers that grow food the way it thinks is best. And based on what I’ve seen over the years, that’s not good for the environment, consumers, or farmers.