Steve Ells opened his first Chipotle in 1993. It was a success from the start, growing into a nationwide restaurant chain that today has 1,900 locations, 45,000 employees and generates annual revenue of well over $4 billion. It was innovative, creating what has become known as ‘fast casual’ dining, and with its commitment to organic food ingredients. Steve’s Chipotle website states, “We care deeply about where our ingredients come from. While industrial farming practices have evolved to maximize profits and production, we make an extra effort to partner with farmers, ranchers, and other suppliers whose practices emphasize quality and responsibility.”
Regarding the animals Chipotle sources for its food, “We think that animals raised outdoors or in deeply-bedded pens are happier and healthier than those raised in confinement. With our suppliers, we take a firm stand on two things.” First, that pasture-raised animals must be provided the living space to be animals. Second, that farmers and ranchers must raise their animals without using antibiotics or synthetic hormones.
Moreover, regarding the produce Chipotle purchases, its mandate is to source locally grown wherever possible and to buy from farms “that plant a variety of crops and rotate the fields where they’re planted keep(ing) the soil nutrient-rich and the land healthier year after year.”
This mandate enables hundreds of family owned sustainable small farms to survive and to thrive, and pumps millions of dollars back into rural economies. Farm Animal Compassionate Engagement believes that this movement, the return of small farms, of a modern day Grange, of food-to-table, will create 500,000+ new farming jobs over the next decade, the rebirth of rural towns, and will constitute one of the essential American social movements in our country’s evolution into a more compassionate nation.
What we most want to commend Steve Ells and Chipotle on, is their strength of character, their adherence to their values. Given the factory-farmed dominance of the pork industry, when pork suppliers violated Chipotle’s animal care standards, it proved impossible to source humanely raised pork. Rather than compromise, Chipotle removed pork from its menus – and for a prolonged period of time.
Steve Ells risked that his customers who would head down the street to order their carnitas at Taco Bell or numerous other food chains where it was always on the menu – chains operating without concern at their executive level regarding the humane treatment of the animals they source for food. But Chipotle customers tend to be loyal. And aware, informed and issue-oriented. And they remained Chipotle customers.
Now some factory farms are getting the message. It is no coincidence that DuBreton, North America’s largest pork producer has agreed to raise 300,000 more crate-free pigs. Nor, most probably, is it a sudden surge of compassion on their part either. They are changing to supply customers’ demand for healthier, humanely raised pork - demand rising hand-in-hand with a company like Chipotle who gets it, whose mandate, whose DNA insists on it.
This is not just a reflection of the compassion and the caring of Steve Ells. This is also a demonstration of his courage.
STEPHEN COMMENT: I met Chris in 2014 after a speaking engagement promoting this new book. Chris, in his speaking and in his writing is not prone to hyperbole. That’s part of what makes his message so powerful.
“The American supermarket seems to represent the best in America: abundance, freedom, choice. But that turns out to be an illusion.”
“Journalist Christopher Leonard spent more than a decade covering the country’s biggest meat companies, including four years as the national agribusiness reporter for the Associated Press.” The Meat Racket reveals “how a handful of companies executed an audacious corporate takeover of the nation’s meat supply. He shows how they built a system that puts farmers on the edge of bankruptcy, charges high prices to consumers, and returns the industry to the shape it had been in the 1900s before the meat monopolists were broken up. “
This is a section intended to commend an outstanding individual, not to recommend a product, but it is impossible to commend Christopher Leonard without mention of his important eye-opening book, The Meat Racket.
STEPHEN COMMENT: Alan Lewis directs Government Affairs and Food and Agriculture Policy for Natural Grocers - Vitamin Cottage, a thriving 60-year-old natural food grocery chain operating 90 stores in fifteen states. His work sourcing healthy sustainably farmed foods for Natural Grocers keeps his customers happy and healthy and enables numerous family farmers to thrive. Cottonwood Creek Farms is one example. Alan is active in many trade organizations and sits on the Boulder County Food and Agriculture Policy Council. His focus is on communicating with local and federal policy makers using frameworks that are non-confrontational and inclusive. In his TEDx talk, archived in VIDEO’s – Candy’s Room, Alan reveals the sophisticated methods used by the food industry “fibberati” to manipulate, deceive and distract us and suggests that we can resist these nefarious tactics by making conscious food choices based on core values that support a sustainable and just food system.
As an industry insider, Alan Lewis knows just how badly the food system is broken. Alan’s insights are far reaching…
Here is the first part of my interview with Alan. He talks about what makes Natural Grocers so unique as a natural food grocery store chain and his efforts sourcing natural foods from regional sustainable family farmers, helping them grow their businesses and building the rural communities they are a part of.
In the next part of the interview Alan and I discuss the historical relationship of American farmers and the government, the secret design behind modern government farm policy, the battle to protect meaningful truthful product labeling, Big Ag’s takeover of university agriculture departments, research and ideology. We also discuss localized food re-distribution and other promising solutions going forward.
STEPHEN COMMENT: Powerful, well researched and persuasive, the research briefs published by the PEW Charitable Trusts Human Health and Industrial Farming initiative, make a strong case “to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics by phasing out the overuse and misuse of the drugs in food animal production.” Laura Rogers is the HHIF Director, Gail Hansen is Senior Officer.
Doctors routinely warn patients that antibiotics should be used only to treat bacterial infections, at the proper dosage, and for the full course of treatment, because failure to follow these rules increases the likelihood that some of the bacteria will survive and mutate to become drug resistant. Yet many large producers of meat and poultry feed antibiotics to their healthy food animals simply to offset the effects of overcrowding and poor sanitation, as well as to promote faster growth.
In fact, up to 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States go to healthy food animals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all testified before Congress that there was a definitive link between the routine, non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics in food animal production and the crisis of antibiotic resistance in humans. This position is supported by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other leading medical groups who all warn that the injudicious use of antibiotics in food animals presents a serious and growing threat to human health because the practice creates new strains of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
STEPHEN COMMENT: Filmmakers Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn have made a very important feature-length documentary, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret which identifies and examines THE most destructive industry on the planet – large-scale factory farming. They back up their facts with one insightful interview after another with industry experts and watchdogs. Kip proves an engaging guide, taking us with him on his path of discovery. We arrive at the clear realization that: “Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, and is a primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, ocean ‘dead zones,’ and virtually every other environmental ill. Yet it goes on, almost entirely unchallenged.”
At this point, this documentary is only just beginning.
As we observed regarding author Jonathan Safran Foer and his book, Eating Animals, sometimes being part of the solution is being able to frame, articulate and ask the right questions. Kip takes this realization, turns around and directs it back at the spokespersons and leaders of the Sierra Club and other preeminent environmental organizations – the ones that are supposed to be the watchdogs for the environmental movement.
He and we are dumbfounded witnessing their seeming ignorance of, their reluctance or hesitation to acknowledge, and when confronted with the facts, their failure to admit to, let alone address this, the paramount worldwide cause of environmental and species degradation: animal agriculture. Cowspiracy is a jaw-dropping revelation in this regard.
Since the environmental ‘leaders’ have no solutions to the problem they seem unwilling or unable to adequately address, Kip and Keegan take that upon themselves, suggesting a new path to global sustainability.
Watch this film. Buy it, share it. Attend a Tugg screening in your area or organize one of your own.
STEPHEN COMMENT: Sometimes being part of the solution is being able to frame, articulate and ask the right questions. Author Jonathan Safran Foer is an engaging storyteller with a beautiful gift for language. He applies his passion, rigorous intellect and his sense of humor, taking us on an exploration of a profound dilemma he is wrestling with – which happens to be one that effects most of us: How do we, as compassionate evolving human beings, reconcile learning about the vast horror, the complete ethical morass that is the torture, suffering and lifelong misery endured by billions of factory farmed animals, with our lifelong meat-eating habits, our family traditions, our social and cultural identity, meals shared with meat-eating family, friends and associates? His intimately personal exploration is even more affecting because he frames it around not only his personal choices, but the manner in which he and his wife must choose to raise their young son.
This is a section intended to commend an outstanding individual, not to recommend a product, but it is impossible to commend Mr. Foer without mention of his book which is testament to his journey, Eating Animals.