I recently wrote about Chipotle's Cultivate Festival, which is coming to our city on April 18th. The free festival is all about bringing together food, ideas, and music. Chipotle promises to provide us with an education on some hot topics concerning our food, not the least of which is this factory vs. farm debate. We hear about factory-raised meats and we hear about farm-raised meats. We may or may not listen to the political, ethical, and health debates that surround the topic of factory vs. farm. Sometimes it's easier to plug our ears, shut our eyes, and sing "la la la la la..." We may think we know the difference between factory- and farm-raised meats, but do we? What does factory vs. farm really mean?
Chipotle's main tagline is "food with integrity." A huge part of this concept is the fact that, unlike many quick-serve and fast-casual restaurants, Chipotle uses "responsibly raised" meats, meaning that the process is respectful to the animals and to the environment. Chipotle offers their customers pork, beef, and chicken (among some equally-stellar vegetarian options) as well as dairy. Let's take a look at what factory vs. farm means with regard to these three meats and dairy.
Factory raised pigs are confined to small pens and do not have the ability to move freely. They have very limited opportunity to express their natural behaviors. Because these conditions are so unhealthy for them, they are given large amounts of antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. Chipotle states that "according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, American pork producers use over ten million pounds of antibiotics per year to keep their confinement-raised pigs from getting sick. That's more than three times the estimated amount used to treat all human illness." Whoa!
By contrast, Chipotle sources it's pork responsibly. The pigs are raised outside or in large pens with ample roaming room. They are antibiotic-free, and fed an entirely vegetarian diet. Since 2001, Chipotle has sourced 100% of its pork from producers who follow these guidelines. Chipotle talks about going "back to the start," which is what they have done with their pork supply–obtaining it the way it was done before gigantic factory farms changed the entire industry. Check out their powerful video, Back to the Start:
I must have watched it a hundred times, and, still, it makes me cry every time.
But how do they know for sure that the pork they are getting is responsibly raised? They check. You may have noticed that Chipotle has recently been out of carnitas in many areas of the country. Chipotle checked, and when they discovered that their main pork supplier was not up to standards, they pulled carnitas from their stores until they can find one that meets their standards. Talk about responsible! Click here to read my post about why Chipotle is out of carnitas.
Factory-raised beef suffers conditions similar to factory-raised pork. The cattle are crammed into small pens with little, if any, opportunity to move and are pumped full of antibiotics to keep them from getting sick from the abysmal conditions. They are not allowed to exhibit any of their natural behaviors.
Since 1999, Chipotle has purchased naturally raised beef. They admit that it has been an uphill battle to find suppliers to meet their standards. Typically these places are the mom-and-pop types, usually too small to handle the demands of an international chain. As time goes on, more and more suppliers are meeting Chipotle's high standards, but it has taken a lot of work. The good news? As the demand for naturally raised beef goes up, the supply goes up. Can you imagine how great it would be if all restaurants would make the same demands? Today, Chipotle sources 100% of their beef from ranches that meet or exceed their standards of being naturally raised. And if there is a shortage (which there occasionally is), they let their customers know.
Factory-raised chicken is an equally, if not more frightening, food source. Though by law, all chicken produced in the United States may not be raised with added growth hormones, factory-raised chickens are still given high levels of antibiotics. In order to get around the pesky growth-hormone ban, large suppliers have been using additives in their feed. One of these additives is arsenic, which makes the chickens grow faster. Do you want arsenic in your chicken?
Instead, Chipotle sources their chicken from suppliers who do not use antibiotics or feed additives. They say "we think arsenic sounds like poison."
When they do, on occasion, experience a supply shortage of naturally raised chicken, Chipotle notifies their customers.
You've heard about rBGH, right? A ton of dairy products now boast that they are "rBGH-free." But do we know what rBGH is? rBGH is short for "Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone," and you'll find its widespread usage in conventionally-raised dairy cows. rBGH is used to increase milk production. It's all about quantity, not quality. And it's not natural.
Of the dairy ingredients that are offered at Chipotle, none have been sourced from cows treated with rBGH. Their cheese, for example, comes from pasture-raised cows that have daily access to the great outdoors. The cows are fed an all-vegetarian, plant-based diet.
All of this is a lot to take in, but Chipotle hopes to illustrate and simplify this information in their Factory vs. Farm Exhibit at the Cultivate Festival. They hope that by educating restaurant-goers, people will demand food with integrity, and Chipotle won't be on it's own in this noble quest for higher standards for animals, the environment, and human health. Chipotle has an awesome Food With Integrity section on their web site that goes into even greater detail. There's even a FWI Facts page that showcases easy-to-Tweet and share facts about the industry. Here are a few FWI Facts they share:
Sustainable Farming: This method of farming uses techniques such as crop rotation, soil conservation, natural fertilization and polyculture planting. In livestock production, they use pasture-based systems, feed animals what their bodies are designed to digest, and treat their animals humanely. Sustainable farms produce foods that are tastier and more nutritions than foods produced on factory farms, while also preserving the long-term health of our environment.
The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) does state that organic meat must come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. But organic meat or dairy products can often be produced on large factory farms where the animals can spend their entire life in confinement. Many people see organic food as natural, and in many ways this is true. But we've found that in some cases organic methods do not go far enough. That's why we are careful in selecting the farms we work with and deciding when working with an organic producer is appropriate for our needs.
Pigs raised naturally are more expensive than factory-farm raised pigs. In 1999, Steve Ells, or founder, chairman and co-CEO, started buying naturally raised pork and with that, kicked off our Food with Integrity philosophy.
There is so much to know, and so much to learn about Food with Integrity. I look forward to learning more about Factory vs. Farm at the Cultivate Festival and hope you'll join me!
What do you think is the most alarming thing about factory-raised meats?
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