Chipotle Restaurants And The Pigness of The Pig

Chipotle is one of the handful of places I can eat out without any guilt. 100% of the pork carnitas they serve in their 870+ restaurants come from free-range pigs, like the ones Joel Salatin raises. Over the last decade, they’ve also worked hard to incorporate more grass-fed cows and pastured poultry.

Last night, ABC’s Nightline aired a piece interviewing Chipotle’s founder, Steve Ells, and Joel Salatin (the self-described Christian, Libertarian, Environmentalist, Lunatic farmer and hero of The Omnivore’s Dilemma who recently wrote a guest post here on Why Local Food is More Expensive).

You’ve gotta watch this story.

Remember how excited I was to see Alice Waters on 60 Minutes? My one complaint was that Lesley Stahl painted Alice in an elitist, slightly eccentric light.

But you can’t make elitist burritos. (Well, maybe you can, but you’d be hard pressed to call Chipotle — a nationwide fast food chain — elitist.)

The Highlights of The Story

  • Joel Salatin’s idea that a happy pig is one that gets to fully express its “pigness.” In our culture, Joel says, we don’t ask, “how do we make a pig happy?” We ask, “how do we grow them faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper? That’s not a noble goal.” The concept of the “pigness of the pig” became the Nightline story’s over-arching mantra, the theme that tied it all together. I’ve got a feeling this would make Joel happy, as many other reporters picking and choosing sound bites of Joel’s words have often ignored this key concept.
  • When asked why he doesn’t buy pork from factory farms, Steve Ells doesn’t hesitate. “First of all, you can breathe here,” he says, taking in a deep breath of verdant savanna surrounded by wallowing pigs. What a classic moment!
  • Steve Ells originally started Chipotle because he wanted to show that just because you were serving food quickly didn’t mean you had to sacrifice quality. “Just because it’s fast doesn’t mean it has to be a typical fast food experience. You can cook great pork, like the pork from Joel’s farm, and you can spend hours braising it to perfection, but then it only takes seconds to serve.”
  • Even though Steve’s food costs are slightly more expensive, he’s built a business model that allows for that added expense. In other words, the only reason he’s not serving 100% humanely raised, grass-fed, and pastured meats is because of a supply issue, not a cost issue.

Watch The Video

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If the above player doesn’t work, you can go watch the video on ABCs site!

This post is part of today’s Real Food Wednesday carnival, hosted by Cheeseslave. After you’re done watching the video, you should hop over to Cheeseslave’s blog and see what other folks are saying today about Real Food!

(photo courtesy of ABC News)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.

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22 Responses to Chipotle Restaurants And The Pigness of The Pig
  1. Stacy
    June 17, 2009 | 11:04 am

    I want to be just like Joel Salatin when I grow up. :)

    Stacy

  2. KristenM
    June 17, 2009 | 11:06 am

    Stacy — I KNOW!!!! Me too. :)

  3. Carrie
    June 17, 2009 | 11:13 am

    mmm, i’m going to chipotle for lunch today.

    Carrie

  4. Carrie Oliver
    June 17, 2009 | 11:15 am

    Nice summary, I missed it, too, and am glad it’s available online. It’s long mystified me why McDonald’s would invest in Chipotle but not change the quality of the beef or chicken in its own restaurants.

    Carrie Oliver

  5. KristenM
    June 17, 2009 | 11:52 am

    Carrie — Well, by watching that video I learned that McDonald’s no longer owns a stake in Chipotle. Apparently, they were an investor at a critical stage in expanding the business, but sold all their shares back in 2006. I think they saw it as a way to make a quick buck.

  6. Kelly the Kitchen Kop
    June 17, 2009 | 1:00 pm

    Kristen, this is a great post and a great video and I’m SO adding it to my Monday link love to help get the word out! Thanks for finding it. :)
    Kelly

    Kelly the Kitchen Kop

  7. Shannon
    June 17, 2009 | 1:15 pm

    I love chipotle. Yummy burrito bowl, hold the rice with guacamole.

    You would be hard pressed to call a guy like Joel Salatin elitist. Just look at the guy.

    Alice Waters, on the other hand, at first glance could look more elitist than Joel.

    He describes himself just as I would describe myself: Christian, Libertarian, Environmentalist, Lunatic Farmer. Well the last part is a work in progress. I’ll watch the video with hubby tonight after we do some local, organic strawberry picking :).

    Shannon

  8. Catherine
    June 17, 2009 | 1:49 pm

    Wow! Those pigs are smiling. I paused the video where the pigs were laying on each other in the dirt and they were actually grinning. How cute.

    What a great example this is to other big chain corporations.

    There is a local restaurant in my area that is run by a teenage kid (17 y.o. I think) and his policy is to only get local food to serve there. If the food is not available then he serves something else. All the food is picked up from the farm. This boy is truly passionate about great quality food.

    Catherine

  9. Marc Feel Good Eating
    June 17, 2009 | 2:06 pm

    Very cool Thank you Kristin.

    No Chipotle here locally ;-(

    Marc

    Marc Feel Good Eating

  10. Yummy
    June 17, 2009 | 2:34 pm

    Wow- I thought that stuff about Chipotle having sustainable meats was just marketing bs and not really true. Thanks for the info. YAY! Their salsas are pretty good too.
    This is a really great website!

    Yummy

  11. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship
    June 17, 2009 | 3:22 pm

    Wow, we were talking about trying Chipotle for the first time Monday. I had no idea they had GOOD food, I had just heard they had, you know, good food. I’m excited to go there now!! I’ll have to get pork, just for Joel. :)

    Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

  12. lo
    June 17, 2009 | 4:57 pm

    I’m with others here who thought the Chipotle advertising for sustainable meats was just a marketing ploy (shame of that is it shows how skeptical we’ve become in this age of fake food!). Glad to know it’s the truth… I might have to adjust my lens a bit!

    Thanks for posting the link to the video!

    lo

  13. Organic and Thrifty
    June 17, 2009 | 6:30 pm

    Great post, FR!!!

    I love Chipotle, but was avoiding their pork because I thought it couldn’t possibly be raised “the good way”! Thanks so much; this is the one restaurant I actually will eat at, too! Yay!

    Catherine, (above) I would love to know more details about this restaurant you speak of! Sounds like the makings for a great blog post!!!!

    Organic and Thrifty

  14. Mary P.
    June 18, 2009 | 12:26 am

    Thank you so much for posting this, I loved it! I will now patronize Chipotle’s :)))

  15. Raine Saunders
    June 18, 2009 | 9:57 am

    Almost two years ago, my husband said he heard a report on NPR about these restaurants using sustainable meat, so it made our traveling experiences just a little easier since then.

    Of course, I always think about stuff like this, but…I wonder how their tortillas are made (and where does their rice come from)? I always think about GMOs when I go to restaurants and public places, and I know Steve Ells is conscientious, but I didn’t hear anything about that in the report. I don’t want to be the naysayer, but I just know that in any other case, if it’s not otherwise labeled, it’s probably GMO.

    Raine Saunders

  16. KristenM
    June 18, 2009 | 10:21 am

    Raine — The way I see it, when I eat out, I’m definitely making compromises. So, I try to do the best I can. In my book, the highest nutritional priorities go to meat & dairy being well-sourced (from grass-fed, wild, or free-range animals). If I can’t get that, it’s at least nice to know the meat/dairy is from animals raised w/o the use of antibiotics or hormones. My next priority in eating out is trying to avoid trans fats (so no foods fried in veggie oil) and eating as few yellow oils (corn, soybean, canola, etc.) as possible. My next priority is to try to eat as few grains as possible because they are ALL going to be improperly prepared. (I’ll sometimes allow rice, depending on the rest of the meal and what else I’ve eaten that day/week.) I have zero hope of getting organic veggies & fruits, so I simply try to avoid the most pesticide-laden fruits & veggies (not the crops that use the most pesticides, but the plants that have the most residual pesticides in them after washing) like peaches, strawberries, and leafy greens.

    Now then, that’s just an order of priority for me, my own personal rules for eating out without feeling especially guilty. I don’t eat out very often, but when I do, I try to do the best I can based on those priorities.

    So, by those priorities, a carnitas burrito bowl (the innards of a burrito w/o the tortilla) at Chipotle is looking pretty good, particularly if I saddle it with guacamole & sour cream.

  17. Raine Saunders
    June 18, 2009 | 11:38 am

    Yes, it’s true that you simply cannot win all fronts on the eating out frontier, and on the rare occasion that I do eat out, I never order anything with grains or tortillas, unless they happen to be corn (on rare occasions, again, because of GMOs). I just thought that since Steve Ells was conscientious, he might be making an effort to have some of the other components in the food served at his restaurants safe as well…but just didn’t know the answer to that question. It is my dream to be able to walk into a restaurant some day and know that every component is conscientiously prepared from sustainable foods. I know that’s pie-in-the-sky, but one restaurant here in Boise is doing about 85% of that, as most of their food is locally sourced, sustainable, and organic. I never eat their grains, even though they are organic, because they are all probably rancid. But I can feel safe eating all meat and vegetables there because it’s all sustainable and organic. Now that’s an honorable goal to be reaching for (as Joel Salatin might say!).

    Raine Saunders

  18. Angela
    June 18, 2009 | 11:38 am

    Thanks for the story. I love Joel as he is such a great role model for the type of farmers that we desperately need. In terms of working to have sustainable meat, I applaud Chipotle

  19. karen c.
    June 18, 2009 | 12:36 pm

    Wow, thanks so much for this article. I actually stopped eating at Chipotle (when forced to eat fast food) due to their ties with McDonald’s and as PP stated the suspect “all natural” claims. I was relieved to find out that both were inaccurate. THANKS AGAIN!

  20. Organic Consumer who Cares
    June 18, 2009 | 2:07 pm

    I HIGHLY recommend reading this blog from Denver Fair Food. Denver is where the Chipotle HQ is located and it’s a smart read for anyone concerned with Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” stance:

    http://denverfairfood.blogspot.com/2009/06/further-reading-for-chipotle-mexican.html

  21. Walter Jeffries
    June 19, 2009 | 2:52 pm

    Bravo. We can raise pigs without grain, without confinement, out on pasture. I get told it is impossible. But we’ve been doing it for years. It works and the pork is the best. Kudos to Chipotle Restaurants for supporting pastured pig farming.

  22. Shaun
    August 12, 2009 | 7:42 pm

    I’m glad a place like this exists in our junk food culture, and I admire their efforts in going the extra mile to serve Real Food, so I was doubly disappointed to learn that they use hydrogenated oils in their tortillas. While browsing around their site, I noticed that they mention the tortillas have a “negligible amount of trans fats,” so I enquired about what was adding that negligible amount, and my worst fears were confirmed:

    “Thanks for writing us. Yes, we do have hydrogenated oil in our flour tortillas. It is .46 grams per serving to be exact. The FDA says if you have less than .5 grams per serving, that means you have “Zero Trans Fats”. But we like to be honest.
    Just so you know, we’ve been trying to get Trans Fats out of our tortillas for quite some time, but the tests do not yield the results we need yet. We’ll keep trying.
    Thanks.”

    Sincerely,
    Lyn

    I hope they try harder. I’m sure many people are under the impression they’re getting all-natural food when they eat there, but that’s just not the case, obviously, with these plasticized oils, no matter how negligible. I’ll continue eating there, but I’ll be skipping the burritos from now on.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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