Chipotle and The Scarecrow

In the last year, I’ve learned more about agricultural and the modern agricultural system than I’d ever known before in my life. This isn’t saying a lot; although I am an Iowan, Born And Raised, I grew up in the city and was the furthest thing from a farm boy. But after taking a job with one of the Big 6 Ag companies in the industry, I’ve spent the last year learning as much as I can about the modern agricultural process, both from the perspective of the large ag companies and also from the perspective of the organic-only, anti-GMO camp through the means of blogs, documentaries (King Corn and Food, Inc. are two great ones), etc. It’s been a fascinating topic to learn about, because especially in the U.S., if a person doesn’t grow up on a farm nor is closely associated with one, they most likely have an idealized yet inaccurate idea (if any idea at all) where their food actually comes from.

Yet I’ve been very hesitant to write about the topic of agriculture, mainly because it’s as polarizing as any a political topic I could find. You mention GMOs (or abortion, or gay marriage, or ACA, or gun control, etc.) and you’ve got people on either side of the argument shouting their digital voices hoarse. I’ve tried my best to be reticent about my political views in the digital space in general because I didn’t want to add to the Noise, so I’ve abstained.

Until now! I recently read a blog post about Chipotle’s recent video, The Scarecrow. If you haven’t seen the video, I’d say start there.

First time I watched it, I was immediately moved to go support Chipotle by buying one of their delicious and ethical burritos. And I didn’t give the piece much more thought, other than I figured it was a highly idealized way to portray the modern agricultural system and there were likely some exaggerations or inaccuracies, but didn’t care enough to investigate them.

Fastforward a week later and I stumble upon this absolutely fantastic blog post by Diana Prichard, the owner of “…a small farrow-to-finish hog operation in the heart of Michigan’s farm country…” I then learned that a farrow-to-finish operation is a farm where hogs are born, bred and raised until slaughter for pork meat. She also “works as a freelance agriculture and food writer, photographer, and professional speaker.” She does it all, and all from the frontlines of the modern food system. Prichard’s writing sounds informed because it is informed, whereas so much of the dreck that’s written from either side of the political food debate either isn’t informed or is too biased for its own good.

Long story short, Prichard saw The Scarecrow and reached out to Chipotle’s corporate spokesman, Chris Arnold. He responded, and thus began an intriguing and revealing back and forth between the two regarding The ScarecrowRead her blog post here. It’s short and extremely well-written.

What I love about Prichard’s piece is that it’s well-written and deeply informed. This isn’t shouting, it’s not anti-GMO or anti-organic or even anti-corporation (although after this experience, she might be a Pancheros’ convert…). She writes from the perspective of a small farm owner, and who better to comment and discuss the issues surrounding the modern agricultural system than the small farm owners? These are the people who grow or raise a great deal of the food that we eat. They should have a bigger voice than anybody.

I’m not condemning Chipotle for The Scarecrow. It’s an incredibly effective weapon of marketing, eliciting exactly the response it’s meant to elicit. But do I think Chipotle has dressed up inaccuracies and misconceptions in their pious, Sunday best? Absolutely. The average consumer is likely not going to be able to see through these inaccuracies and is almost certainly going to be drawn towards certain moral conclusions about the food system because they most likely have no context about the larger issues at hand. Chipotle could’ve done better at educating the consumer with factual information rather than going straight for the emotional jugular with no regard for inaccurate or misleading information.

So no grand call to boycott Chipotle here, more a reminder to watch with a keen eye what is offered up as fact in the media. Divisive and important cultural issues will almost never be discussed fairly or holistically, either on Fox or on the Huffington Post. And 9 times out of 10 I’ll choose Pancheros’ over Chipotle. It’s all about the tortilla.

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