The perspective in this blog post comes with some disclaimers:
- I look at these things from two angles — an advertising perspective, and that of an agriculturalist.
- Yes, I am a member of the agriculture industry. My clientele, however, is all over the board. I believe in the idea that a wide array of production methods and mindsets are required to meet the diverse and ever-changing food needs of our nation, our continent, and our world. I work primarily with non-profits, and the people I work alongside and represent through those organizations are small farmers, large farmers, middle-sized farmers, organic, and conventional. The two unifying factors? All of them are trying to do best they can with their situation and their resources, and most of them are family-owned and operated.
If you haven’t watched it already, Chipotle recently released a video entitled “The Scarecrow” which paints a fantastical picture of what food production is. Animals are handled by robots, as part of an assembly-line factory run by crows. The products that come out at the end are referred to as “beef-ish” and the scarecrow we journey through the video alongside of seems uncomfortable with what he witnesses. Truly, it’s a breath-taking instance of advertising. The imagery is powerful, the metaphors are strong, and even having been on more farms than I can count, I was uncomfortable. But that’s all this video is: advertising.
Chipotle is trying to sell a mindset to you, one that paints modernized agriculture as dehumanized and evil, and Chipotle’s food as being more natural and wholesome. While not all facets of agriculture are perfect, and the industry does have its share of setbacks, Chipotle’s mechanized portrayal of modern agriculture is a gross and inaccurate hyperbole. In one scene, they show chickens being injected with something and doubling in size — yet, there are no growth hormones used in chickens.
Like the best advertisements I can think of, this ad takes the human imagination and runs away with it in a chariot of flaming emotion. It plants seeds of uncertainty, and the next time a hungry, well-meaning consumer wants a quick lunch, they might head into Chipotle over Taco Bell because, well, Chipotle is “more kind.”
From an advertising perspective, it’s genius.
From an ethical perspective, Chipotle’s “Scarecrow” advertisement is reprehensible. (That link is to an amazing blog post, describing an interesting back-and-forth with Chipotle’s marketing department.)
It would be one thing if Chipotle actually stood by this moral stance. If they firmly believed that the only product they could sell in good conscious were those produced according to their approved methods, I’d be more tolerant. But Chipotle’s commitment to their ethical high ground is nowhere near as deep as their pockets are. On any given day, you can stroll up to a Chipotle and see signs saying that they’re out of their grass-fed beef, or they’re out of their free range chicken. They apologize for the inconvenience, but cheap, conventionally-raised chicken is available in the here and now and morals are flexible.
One would say Chipotle is “biting the hand that feeds them” but that’s not really the case. They can produce as many videos degrading conventional agriculture as they like, totally alienate the suppliers, and then buy back their love with giant pocketbook that is too flexible to ignore. When their “unconventional” food is too expensive or evasive, they have no issues redirecting those funds to the very food suppliers they belittle.
So, there we have it: Chipotle sells a grand image but can’t (or won’t?) live up to its own hype.
The ethical implications are deeper than just that, though.
In a world where we need all facets and methods of food production to suit the diverse needs and wants of our rapidly-changing world, advertisements like this can add emotion to an already-passionate conversation that will shape the future of our global food production. The Chipotles of the world use emotion to sell their product, and then indirectly influence the greater dialogue about where food production in this world is going. There isn’t much room for science, sociology, and economics when there are emotions running high thanks for a moving cartoon by a hypocritical company. This new spin on the dialogue not only unfairly stacks the deck against farms and ranches (94% of which are family-owned and operated in the U.S.) but could also have long-term implications on our abilities to meet the food demands of our country, our continent, and even our world.
Millions of people have seen Chipotle’s video, and some may have formed new opinions on food production thanks to it. What I beg of you, or anyone who reads this blog, is clarity. And, actually, I pray.
I pray that we, as a world, can strive toward a collaborative (rather than divisive) solution to fulfilling all of our food needs. I pray that individuals can make their personal food decisions based on what is right for them, and not on peer pressure from groups who are turning a profit from it at the end of the day. I pray that even if you choose a food lifestyle that is different from others, you respect others’ right to pursue the food lifestyle that fits their needs and ethics. And I pray that if/when you join the conversation about where our food comes from and how it’s raised, you do so with open-mindedness, clarity, and respect. And if you have questions about how food is produced, there are countless farmers and ranchers from all over the spectrum waiting to answer your questions via social media. Find their blogs, or hop on Twitter and ask questions on the #agchat hashtag.
In short, I pray that you have more integrity than Chipotle’s advertising does.
Thanks for your time. To watch Chipotle’s video “The Scarecrow”, please click here.
- Righteous Bacon by Diana Prichard — Chipotle’s Scarecrow Part One: Lessons in Corporate Greed
- Agriculture Proud by Ryan Goodman — Chipotle takes on Big Food with animated Scarecrow
- Farming America by David Hayden — Hey Chipotle
- Buzzard’s Beat by Brandi Buzzard-Frobose — Chipotle: A World of Pure Imagination
- Dairy Carrie by Carrie Mess — Duh, Chipotle, the udder is on the bottom of the cow, not the side.