Back to the Start

Published on: 10:07AM Sep 02, 2011

It’s been a busy summer, so I gave this blog a well-deserved rest…but now that it’s September, and Labor Day approaches and schools are in and hurricanes are flying…it’s time to pick up the pace (and the page) once again.

And there’s no more apt way to begin than with the debut of this new music video collaboration between Chipotle Restaurants, Willie Nelson and Coldplay.  Actually, it’s a Nelson cover of a Coldplay song, “The Scientist,” that Chipotle is sponsoring to visualize what’s wrong with contemporary agriculture, and why the foods served by Chipotle are not just better tasting, but morally better.

The video repeats the frequent theme we hear and see today in the food business, which is that farms have gotten too big, have lost their sense of what’s right and wrong, and we’d all be better if we did away with “industrial” agriculture.  I’ve devoted plenty of keystrokes in commenting on these ideas during the past three years, and have to say there’s nothing really new that Chipotle brings to the party (other than some salsa, and an interesting cover that tries to make Willie Nelson relevant once again.  Also that semi-trucks and highways seem to be really bad as well).

Instead, I would rather raise a few rhetorical questions about the ideas featured in this collaborative effort in the marketing of Chipotle’s products, such as:

·         Does the appearance of the “Old McDonald” type of farm this video presents as the ideal really translate into a farm that is sustainable AT EVERY LEVEL, i.e. environmentally, food safety, animal welfare, and most of all, economically? 

·         If the alt-food trends of slow, local, community supported, etc., mean that half the households in America making $50k or less can’t afford them, is that sustainable from an ethical standpoint?

·         Many U.S. dairy farms are actually quite similar to the rudimentary cartoon version presented in the video.  Some are not, and are in fact larger.  All are owned by families, who have weighed options and made decisions about the best business model for themselves.  What’s inherently wrong with a system that allows independent food producers such choices?

I actually think the lyrics later in the original Coldplay song, though not sung in this Nelson cover, capture the reality whenever we are presented with one company’s or brand’s or NGO’s idealized version of how to feed the world:

Tell me you love me
Come back and haunt me
I want to rush to the start
Running in circles
Chasing tails
Coming back as we are

We all want to feel loved, or at least appreciated, for what we do and the choices we make, personally and professionally.  Yet so much of this debate about food production amounts to running in circles and chasing our tails, coming back to the same point where the argument began.