by Sarah Jost
When I lived in Los Angeles, I ate at Chipotle probably 2-3 times a week. As you can imagine, this lead to severe withdrawal when I moved to London and then Vermont. While studying abroad in London, a group of us even went so far as to pen Chipotle a desperate email pleading with them to open a restaurant there…and fast! They actually wrote back that they would try their best. In Vermont, I would regularly make the one hour trek to the Chipotle in Albany, NY, which thankfully opened a few months after I arrived.
One of my biggest fears after deciding to go vegan a few years ago was checking the ingredients list on the Chipotle website. I was sure their rice had butter in it. It had to. Life as I knew it was over. I nervously clicked the FAQ link and held my breath. This was it. I searched vegan and expected to find a big picture of a burrito with murderous ride lines through it that read NOT FOR YOU, SUCKER! Instead I found the following: You should avoid our pinto beans (they are cooked with a small amount of bacon), meats (obviously), cheese, sour cream, and chipotle-honey vinaigrette.
Wait. So I could eat the cilantro-lime rice? And the tortillas? I COULD EAT CHIPOTLE? There may have been a parade. There was definitely dancing. Some glitter confetti. Probably at least one float. It’s all an ecstasy-induced blur now. At that moment I felt there might be a god, and that it was trying to tell me I was on the right path in life, making the right decisions. That or Chipotle is a really fantastic company. It’s hard to say.
I was so grateful for Chipotle’s vegan options that I decided to find out more about the restaurant I had been so dedicatedly frequenting. What I learned then was just the tip of the iceberg compared to the amazing strides Chipotle has made to date. Their Food With Integrity campaign strives for an ethic of respect towards animals, the environment, and people. Even as a Chipotle fanatic, I had no idea just how much they were doing to actually live that ethic.
After visiting a factory farm and seeing firsthand the inhumane conditions in which the animals were kept, Chipotle founder Steve Ells began a crusade to ensure the food served at his restaurants was as ethical as possible. He began to seek out family farmers who were treating their animals and the land with respect and worked with them to source the food for Chipotle.
Chipotle began serving naturally raised pigs in 2000, chickens in 2002, and cows in 2007. Now, 100% of the pigs and chickens served by Chipotle are naturally raised, along with 85% of the cows. They don’t serve any dairy with rBGH and 40% of their black beans are certified organic.
According to the Chipotle website, ‘traditional farming methods were transformed in the 1920s when it was discovered that vitamins A and D could be added to animal feed and allow livestock to be raised without exercise and sunlight for growth.’ Now, an estimated 95% of pigs in the US are raised in confinement. A breeding pig spends her life in a small metal cage called a gestation crate where she can barely move. She is kept constantly pregnant and has an average lifespan of 4 years compared to a pig’s natural lifespan of 10-15 years.
Cows are injected with the synthetic hormone rBGH , which keeps their milk production elevated when it would normally decline to allow their bodies to recover from the stress of milk production. rBGH, which causes ulcers, arthritis, and kidney and heart abnormalities in cows, is illegal in the entire EU, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
But animals aren’t the only ones who suffer from factory farming. According to the UN, factory farming produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation sector worldwide. Cows from factory farms in the US produce more than two billion pounds of manure a year, which amasses to pollute the soil and water supplies.
Chipotle is at the forefront of the movement towards ethical farming practices, for the good of the animals, the earth, and the farmers. Local product is sourced from within 350 miles of each restaurant. In 2009, Steve Ells testified before Congress about the use of rBGH. Animal welfare advocate and professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University Dr. Temple Grandin advised Chipotle on all of their animal welfare protocols. Chipotle’s napkins are made from 100% recycled materials, their burrito bowls 93%, and their aluminum lids 95%.
This weekend Chipotle is hosting their first-ever Cultivate Festival in Chicago. The festival will bring together ‘food, farmers, chefs, thought leaders, and musicians’ for a day filled with new recipes from the Chipotle chefs, a Brewers’ Hall with beer from 9 local breweries, an Artisans’ hall with food from 10 local companies, and a whole ton of fun. Stop by Lincoln Park this Saturday from 11am-7pm to check it out, admission is free!