Chipotle’s The Scarecrow: Using fear to sell burritos

Farm Forum

Chipotle recently released a video featuring an animated scarecrow going to work in what equates to a “food factory” overwrought with animal mistreatment and unhealthy, if not immoral, production practices. The ad, roughly 3.5 minutes long, is obviously taking a very misguided swing at the agriculture industry and attempting to make a statement about food production in the United States.

Chipotle’s video, entitledThe Scarecrow, is attempting to convince consumers that large-scale conventional farming, or “factory farming” as they put it, is slowly poisoning the American public and we as a society need to begin the transition to all organic, non-GMO agricultural practices. To say the video is biased would be an understatement. Some may even wonder if the video was made for the sole purpose of justifying price increases at their “factory restaurants.”

The romanticized ideal of agriculture promoted by the video is simply not realistic for today’s society. The United States was founded as an agriculture-based society in which more than 90 percent of the population was somehow involved in farming. By 1900, roughly 50 percent of the population still lived on a farm or was employed in agricultural services. Today, however, less than 1 percent of the population claims farming as their primary occupation. Think about that; in roughly 250 years we’ve gone from 90 percent of the population helping to grow food all the way down to 1 percent. In 1900, the U.S. population was around 76 million. Today, it’s around 314 million AND we’re exporting more food than ever before.

The technology being targeted by Chipotle’s ad is precisely the technology that has allowed American agriculture to produce twice as much with a fraction of the resources. Agricultural corporations didn’t invent GMOs to corner a market. They devised such methods out of necessity because without such technology, we could never have grown enough food to meet global demand. Thanks to advances in GMO technology, we are now experiencing increased crop yields, crop resistance to pests and diseases, reduced costs for food and drug production, enhanced food quality, greater food security, and numerous contributions to the field of medicine.

The global population has doubled since 1960 and is predicted to double again by 2050. Roughly 70 percent of the products found on grocery store shelves contain a genetically modified ingredient. If we eliminate 70 percent of the food supply, how could we possibly continue to feed an ever-growing population? The answer is that we couldn’t, or at least not without a huge surge in food prices or a nation-wide effort to begin growing food organically in our own backyards. Today, Americans spend less than 10 percent of their income on food, the lowest rate in the world. Compare that to the citizens of Kenya or Afghanistan who spend more than 50 percent of their income on food. Is the American public prepared to spend significantly more at the grocery store or begin growing food themselves?

Whether we like it or not, large-scale producers using conventional farming practices are now responsible for feeding millions of people worldwide. According to the USDA, there are approximately 2.3 million individuals in the United States who can claim farming as their occupation. Of those 2.3 million, 10 percent grow more than 75 percent of what is consumed and exported. In other words, 75 percent of the total food supply in the U.S. is grown by less than 230,000 producers.

Agriculture has become big business like anything else, preoccupied with making a profit. Consumers don’t approve of abused cows in cages and chickens being pumped full of hormones; therefore, companies do their best to ensure that their products are safe and produced by legal and moral means. Do they do this because they care about animals and the health and wellbeing of the public? Maybe, but they definitely do it because it’s what’s best for business. Consumers like responsibly produced food and businesses like consumers; it’s that simple.

The ultimate purpose of this video is to appeal to consumers’ emotions in hopes they will choose Chipotle if given the opportunity. It’s not a public service announcement; it’s a marketing strategy. In line with that marketing is the ploy Chipotle chose when constructing their message: animation. For starters, they probably couldn’t find a real-world company terrible enough to fit their desired message. Thanks to an advanced media system, companies of that nature don’t last long and soon close down due to consumer distrust. Second, animation has a strong appeal to kids. It’s much easier to formulate the opinions of young minds than it is to change the minds of adults who’ve already learned to not believe everything on television.

Chipotle founder Steve Ells defended the ad, saying, “…the idea was to spark conversations. The idea is to get people to think…And that’s happening. And the reaction that you see to a film like this- both good and bad- is exactly the intention.” However, not surprisingly, since the ad’s release, Chipotle has refused to engage in the very conversation it wants to take credit for starting. Multiple agricultural groups, including the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and the Animal Agriculture Alliance, have reached out to Chipotle in hopes to have a public discussion regarding the issue. They have yet to hear back.

It’s time that people realize that big doesn’t equal bad and that corporate doesn’t equate to corrupt. Corporate farming may not align with the down-home, all-American ideal that we’d prefer, but it serves a vital purpose and does so with conscience care and effort. Chipotle’s ad not only lies to the American public about production practices and the safety of their food, but it serves a terrible injustice to the thousands of men and women who work tirelessly on America’s farms and ranches to keep food on our tables through safe and humane production practices.