Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chipotle Grilled!

Chipotle is getting burned by the very scheme it cooked up as what it thought was a great public relations opportunitity - sponsoring free screenings of Food, Inc. - is becoming a PR fiasco.

Food, Inc. director Robert Kenner and co-producer Eric Schlosser speak out and Chipotle has to answer tough questions in Tom Philpott's must-read article on "Chipotle Grilled: Burrito chain’s Food, Inc. sponsorship generates off-screen drama over farm-worker issues."

Schlosser explains that while many of Chipotle's efforts are great, he nonetheless "cares more about human rights than any of those things." He continues: "If Taco Bell, Subway, Burger King, and McDonald’s can reach agreement with the CIW, I don’t see why Chipotle can’t."

Kenner likewise, the article states, "made clear that he disagreed with the company’s position on the CIW" even if he agrees with other things Chipotle is doing. Kenner explains: "I was hopeful that by associating itself with a film that promotes workers’ rights, [Chipotle] might be inclined to sign with the Coalition . . . And now I’m not confident they will.”

Our cameo in this unfolding fiasco is also noted: "Chipotle clearly resents such critical statements at events designed to demonstrate its sustainability cred. At one of its screenings in Denver, Chipotle employees barred people from the Campaign for Fair Food to speak after the screening—overturning an arrangement that had been made with Food, Inc’s public-education campaign. " After investigating the incident, the article decides: "In other words, people wanting to discuss the CIW issue aren’t to be given stage time at the Chipotle-sponsored Food, Inc. screenings."

Our story of Chipotle's eagerness to shut up members of Denver Fair Food has really made a splash on the internet, appearing on the websites of the Organic Cosumers Association, the Coporate Ethics Network, US Indymedia, and others.

Of course Denver wasn't the only city where Chipotle got heat from Fair Food activists while trying to bask in Food, Inc.'s glory. All over the country allies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers took to the movies to deflate Chipotle's hot air about "food with integrity" with some sharp truths about farm labor in Chipotle's supply chain. See the great photo report from the nationwide "Battle of the Burrito" on the CIW website.

References to this PR fiasco are popping up in unforseen places such as thedailygreen or even more surprising the mainstream investor blog The Motely Fool. And the bed which Chipotle made for itself in which it now must lie can't be feeling any more comfortable.

The lesson for Chipotle to learn from its bungled Food, Inc. PR experiment? The ecorazzi blog has these fitting words: "you can’t have your 1000+ calorie burrito and eat it too."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Why were Fair Food activists kicked out of Food, Inc.?

The Campaign for Fair Food and the new documentary Food, Inc. share – by any objective observation – a common vision and common struggle.

Food, Inc. is an urgent call to create a more just and sustainable food system while the Campaign for Fair Food has a broad network of people working on the ground to do just that.

The Campaign is seeking to raise awareness of the exploitation of farmworkers occurring in the shadows of our corporate-controlled food system – precisely the types of issues that Food, Inc. exposes.

Official Food, Inc. literature listing “10 things you can do to change our food system” encourages people to: “Demand job protections for farm workers and food processors, encouraging fair wages and other protections.” The Campaign not only encourages people to take action but actually provides an avenue to fight for and win fair wages and farmworker rights.

All this would explain why Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and a co-producer of Food, Inc., has been a strong supporter and active participant in the Campaign, and why, when speaking about the film, he has highlighted the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers as a prime example of meaningful change. And it explains why Schlosser along with the director of Food, Inc. Robert Kenner (and dozens of other prominent sustainable food activists) signed an open letter stating: “We view the CIW’s struggle for dignity as a non-negotiable part of the struggle for a sustainable food system.”

These facts also explain why members of Denver Fair Food arranged with the local theater and Food, Inc.’s national public education campaign so that we could table and speak briefly with the audience before a film screening.

What it doesn’t explain is why when we arrived at the theater a peppy young woman with a talent for faux-niceness told us that we would not be allowed to speak before the audience or to set up a table. Could it be because we were working to create a more just and sustainable food system, because we were distributing a letter signed by the filmmakers, because we were encouraging people take action to demand respect for farmworker rights?

As strange as it sounds, these are indeed the reasons we were kicked out of the screening of Food, Inc. To make sense of this, you should first know that:

- Chipotle Mexican Grill has long been the main campaign target in our efforts to create a food system that includes farmworker justice – efforts which Chipotle has ignored, avoided and resisted.
- The letter signed by the filmmakers that we were distributing is actually addressed to Chipotle, and lambastes the company for failing to ensure that the tomatoes in its burritos were not picked by exploited workers.
- And the action which we were encouraging was to demand that Chipotle finally work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in order to protect the rights of farmworkers.

As you may have guessed already, the woman who kicked us out worked not for Food, Inc. or the theater but for Chipotle. You see, Chipotle rented the theater that night – one of 32 free screenings of the film that it sponsored around the country – and did not want us pointing out the obvious contradiction between its sponsorship and its disregard for the worth and dignity of the women and men who harvest its tomatoes.

According to Chipotle, it was sponsoring the screenings because “the issues raised by the film Food, Inc. are important and complex, and everything we do at Chipotle strives to address them. Our philosophy of Food With Integrity is an active process of working back along the food chain . . .based on a foundation of not exploiting animals, the environment, or people.”

Chipotle can make such lofty claims only when it excludes farmworkers from its “philosophy.” When the fields from which Chipotle sources its tomatoes are the standard used to judge the integrity of its food, it cannot claim to not play a role in a system of food production based clearly on the exploitation of human beings. It cannot claim to be “working back along the food [supply] chain” while denying the farmworkers who actually work in that supply chain the ability to participate in the decisions about that supply chain which affect their lives. And it cannot claim to be addressing the issues raised by Food, Inc. and yet, when presented with an obvious path to address one such issue by committing to work with the CIW, be unwilling to take it.

Chipotle, despite trying to portray otherwise, is out of sync with the common cause articulated by Food, Inc. As Eric Schlosser, Robert Kenner and the other signers of the open letter to the company explain: “We applaud your goal of sourcing ‘food with integrity’ . . . Yet for us, naturally raised meat – important as it is – does not trump decently treated human beings.” Chipotle is stubbornly holding out against the progress achieved by the Campaign for Fair Food while those who truly want a sustainable food system – such as the makers of the film – are actively pushing the Campaign forward. There is a comic sensibility to seeing Chipotle hitch its brand image to the Food, Inc. bandwagon at same time as the film’s makers accuse it of “public relations damage control” in regards to its response to the CIW. Sadly the amusement is dampened when the reality sinks in that Chipotle’s sponsorship of Food, Inc. is a cynical attempt to exploit our dreams of a just and sustainable world as Chipotle is simultaneously suppressing farmworkers’ dreams of dignified working conditions.

Chipotle founder and CEO Steve Ells says, “I hope that all our customers see this film. The more they know about where their food comes from, the more they will appreciate what we do.” But if Chipotle’s customers knew that their tomatoes came from the exploitation of farmworkers and that Chipotle was not willing to take the necessary steps to do something about it, then they might not be so appreciative. In fact, they might be outraged; they might demand change, get organized and take action.

Chipotle knows this and thus doesn’t really want its customers to know the truth behind their food. That’s why we were kicked out of Food, Inc. And that’s why it was so important for us to be there.

Even though Chipotle ruined our plans to speak and even tried to have the cops called on us, we stuck around til the film got out and passed out copies of the open letter to Chipotle to a very receptive crowd, speaking with well over a hundred people while proudly holding our banner reading: “Food, Inc. – Great Film. Chipotle – Don’t believe the hype.” What’s more, throughout the country allies of the CIW took to the movies with the same simple but compelling message.

Chipotle can certainly try as it will to shut us up but it would do better to heed the words of Victor Hugo: “no army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.” Or to paraphrase the late Fred Hampton, you can kick a revolutionary out of a film screening but you can’t kick out a revolution.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

It's your turn. Take action demanding that Chipotle respect farmworkers rights!

A new action in our long-running campaign against Chipotle - check out this message from the CIW:

Last week, leaders of the food justice movement - including Eric Schlosser and Robert Kenner, producer and director of the hard-hitting new documentary "Food, Inc." - sent a strongly worded letter to Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill demanding that they "work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers as a true partner in the protection of farmworkers' rights."

Now it's your turn to get in on the action. Add your name to the letter to Chipotle CEO Steve Ells demanding real "food with integrity" and an end to the human rights crisis in Florida's tomato fields.

Go to to participate in this email action sponsored by our friends at American Rights at Work.

the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Tell your friends and family to take action too! And spread the demand that those of us in the Denver area have had of Chipotle for a long time.

Dictionary: hy·poc·ri·sy

Denver Fair Food got a shout out from the CIW. Here's the whole reflection from the CIW website in which Chipotle is lambasted and the Denver Fair Food blog is quoted.

Dictionary: hy·poc·ri·sy
1. The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.

Dictionary: Chi·poc·ri·sy...
6/22/09: The phenomenon known as "Chipocrisy" was in the news this past week, beginning with the June 15th open letter by more than two dozen leading sustainable food activists calling on Chipotle to live up to its claims of "Food with Integrity" and "work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers as a true partner in the protection of farmworkers' rights."

But it didn't stop there. Also last week, the ABC news show "Nightline" did a piece on Chipotle's relationship with Polyface Farms, a model sustainable farm in Virginia that, in the words of owner Joel Salatin, "fully respects and honors the pigness of the pig."

In the same Nightline story, Chipotle CEO Steve Ells professed, "I think it's really important that people know where their food comes from. I mean we spend a lot of time researching the very best sources, so that when people go to Chipotle, they can rest assured they are getting the very best food."
Really? The Nightline piece, while valuable for shedding light on Mr. Salatin's admirable operation, was incomplete, and therefore deeply flawed. By allowing Mr. Ells to effectively direct the spotlight, the story revealed only that part of Chipotle's supply chain that the company wished to showcase, creating the impression of an ethical restaurant company that indeed earns its claim to "Food with Integrity."

If, however, Nightline had only turned that same spotlight on the fields where Chipotle's tomatoes are picked, perhaps it would have found that the "humanness" of the men and women who pick those tomatoes isn't afforded the same honor or respect.
This might be a good moment to quote a relevant passage from last week's impeccably-timed sustainable food movement letter to Mr. Ells:

"... (F)or us, naturally raised meat – important as it is – does not trump decently treated human beings... Your company has shown admirable leadership in working with – and incubating – meat suppliers willing to meet your higher standards. But your failure to do that same hard work in the Florida tomato industry – together with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) – threatens to render your announcement an empty gesture aimed more at public relations damage control than an effort to make real change."

Chipotle's failure to live up to the virtues it professes to hold dear was not lost, however, on one Denver-based blogger last week. Writing on the Denver Fair Food blog, "Robert" noted that, on its corporate website, Chipotle strongly recommends that its customers read Eric Schlosser's hard-hitting analysis of the fast-food industry's ills, "Fast Food Nation". The contradiction was too much to stomach for the Fair Food blogger, who undoes Chipotle's claims to sustainability using a series of quotes by none other than Mr. Schlosser himself. His conclusion is withering, and it shall be our conclusion here as well:

"... It’s abundantly obvious. Quoting Eric again: 'the exploitation of farm workers should not be tolerated in Florida. It should not be tolerated anywhere in the United States. There are many social problems that are extremely difficult to solve. This is not one of them.' Plain and simple, the solution is for Chipotle to work in partnership with the CIW. That’s been Eric’s demand of fast-food companies for a long time and that’s his demand explicitly of Chipotle today.

"It’s funny really, Chipotle isn’t listening to the guy that Chipotle recommends everyone listen to. Chipotle’s 'further reading' is demanding that Chipotle go further, and yet Chipotle refuses to take its own advice. This is a phenomenon that’s become so common place we have a name for it: Chipocrisy.

"That’s the thing about further reading – sometimes you end up eating your words."