October 9, 2013

The Chipotle Dilemma. ~ Karissa Ostheimer

Recently, Chipotle, the popular fast-food restaurant, released a short film on factory farming (view it here).

It stars a sullen farmer on his path to realizing the vileness that occurs behind each package of “100% beef-ish” products that the company that employs him produces. 

Shortly after the airing of this video, the website funnyordie.com released a spoof version of the film portraying Chipotle as nothing more than a mega-corporation with the sole intent of increasing profits via manipulation of the conscious consumer. “The Scarecrow” is merely a well thought out advertisement, according to the spoof.

“We can hide the truth, there’s nothing to it,” it sings. 

Is it truly improbable for a large corporation to operate on genuine ethics? Is Chipotle just pulling our animal-loving heart strings over to their nearest location?

Or could it be possible that they, like many consumers, are finally awakening to the origins of industrially produced food?

It is simple and convenient  to disassociate omelets with the chickens that they came from. A cheeseburger and the face of a cow are likely at completely opposite locations in our brain’s registry. We are able to pet and coo over our dogs while we cook up a steak dinner.

In Carol J. Adams’ 1990 book, The Sexual Politics of Meat, Adams introduces the psycho-social detachment that occurs between the consumer and the “Other” when people eat meat that has become known as the absent referent:

Behind every meal of meat is an absence: the death of the animal whose place the meat takes. The “absent referent” is that which separates the meat eater from the animal and the animal from the end product. The function of the absent referent is to keep our “meat” separated from any idea that she or he was once an animal, to keep the ‘moo’ or ‘cluck’ or ‘baa’ away from the meat, to keep something from being seen as having been someone.”

However, there is an animal-rights movement brewing in our communities, and its impact is beginning to be seen in mainstream food products. We are now grasping that the animal products that we purchase actually come from animals. Living, sentient beings lie behind each and every product in the meat and dairy aisles.

We cannot expect fast food chains to go from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) sourced junk food to healthy vegan menus overnight.

There have to be first steps, and Chipotle is making them. No, they are not perfect. However, change has to start somewhere. People are waking up to the reality of the food that they eat. For those with a conscience, that image of the frightened cow in “The Scarecrow” film will likely pop into their heads the next time they go through the drive-thru.

Despite this, animal-rights activists are raising concern about the inconsistency with Chipotle and their film due to the chains meat-heavy menu. While Chipotle does source their meat and dairy products from humane farmers that do not use antibiotics and hormones rather than from CAFO’s, as all other mega food chains do, it does not matter to some. According to many vegans, there is no such thing as humane practices when it comes to animal food products. 

I agree the truth must be told about where our food comes from (and all of the disturbing agony that goes along with it when it is conventionally sourced).

But if someone can’t shake their desire for a steak taco, I would much rather it come from Chipotle than Taco Bell.

A cow or a chicken living in its natural environment, grazing on a pasture, is a far cry from the animal slavery that occurs inside the walls of CAFO’s. Expecting every person on this planet to be vegan is a far-fetched goal. Making it known where conventional animal products come from and making other options easily accessible is a far-more reasonable goal.

Those that identify as ethical consumers that partake in animal products are often faced with animosity from the animal-rights community. While I am firmly against any and all forms of animal abuse, I am also realistic about what to expect from people. Look how long it has taken to question where burgers and milk come from.

If you force people to commit to a vegan lifestyle, or vehemently attack them for their food choices, then guess what? They are going to say “Screw you!” and continue to eat their cheap beef.

Changing how people eat will likely be a slow process, but it is happening and I feel that any small step in the right direction should be encouraged.

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Ed: Sara Crolick

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Karissa Ostheimer