More Meaty Food for Thought

I am still thinking a lot about food these days, following my recent encounter with some hogs. I have still been eating fish and chicken. Fish, I have caught and cleaned, so I guess I feel comfortable with the process, and I feel that I am aware of the process. Chickens, I have never “gutted”, other than taking out that little paper bag of giblets.

I don’t think that should count. But I guess it does. Still pondering that one.

But tonight I saw a story on ABC News that I found quite interesting, since this whole recent questioning of mine began with my thought about hogs. The story was about one of my favorite quick lunch spots, Chipotle:

Chipotle Seeks New Model for Quality Fast Food

On Joel Salatin’s farm in north-central Virginia, it’s a pig’s life. Free of the concrete sties and steel pens used in most large hog operations, Salatin’s swine spend their days roaming lazily through a leafy green forest, foraging for food, maybe stopping every once in a while for a good scratch on a tree trunk.

Salatin does not run a hog-rescue operation. All of his pigs are headed, eventually, for the dinner table. And not just any dinner table: One of the top buyers of Salatin’s pork happens to be Chipotle, the nationwide Tex-Mex restaurant chain.

On a recent visit to Salatin’s outfit, Polyface Farms, Chipotle founder and chairman Steve Ells talked with “Nightline” about how the restaurant balances low prices and quality products. Chipotle buys no pork from factory farms and avoids chicken and most beef treated with hormones or antibiotics, he said.

“I think it’s really important that people know where their food comes from,” Ells told “Nightline.” “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 great food. … Joel is a leader in this movement. And really, doing things sort of the way they should be done. And it’s a great example for everybody to follow.”

According to Salatin:

… they get to fully express their pigness. This fully respects and honors the pigness of the pig. You know, in our culture today, our Western, reductionist, Roman, linear, fragmented … culture, we don’t ask how to make a pig happy. We ask how to grow it faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper, and that’s not a noble goal. A noble goal — how do I make a pig happy, because a happy pig is one that will have the nice nutrition and will know our respect and honor of the inherent pigness of the pig, which translates, as a culture, how we respect and honor the John-ness of John, or the Mary-ness of Mary.”

And I know there were some worries about the corporate side of Chipotle:

For all the talk about green pastures and animal comfort, the financial engine behind Chipotle was a corporation not always associated with nature’s way: McDonald’s. The company was the major investor in Chipotle until 2006.

“It was not a strange marriage,” Ells said. “I mean, initially I thought it didn’t make much sense, my early investors had suggested that I go to McDonald’s, and I sent them a business plan and got to meet a lot of the folks over there and they liked what we were doing and so, for a seven-year period, they funded the growth. But they let us run the business, they were primarily a financial thriver behind the business.

“I think that both of us wanted to go our own way, you know, I think that McDonald’s focused on their hamburger business years ago, and sort of getting rid of all their partner brands was a good thing for them,” he said.

….

“Well, I think they will appreciate it more,” Ells said. “Again, this is a journey. It’s not like you can flip a switch and have 100 percent, you know, free-ranging beef and chicken and pork on the menu at every restaurant in the U.S. It doesn’t happen that way.

“This is something that is going to take time,” he said. “But I think the movement is gaining speed now. And I am very excited to see lots of chefs really pay attention to where they purchase food. Not only for better-tasting food, but also for the social responsibility aspect of it.”

Tell me what you think.

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6 comments

  1. Fascinating. I have read a lot about Chipotle and know of their commitment to more humane meat.

    That said, I will fully admit that I have not thought a lot about food and its origin for most of my life… It is too hard to think about. I am pretty sure I would go vegan, a thought that is not appealing to me at all foodwise.

    I try to focus on buying things that are grown or raised locally… easier to do at some times of the year, like now, than others.

    This is very thought provoking and important – thanks for putting it out there.

  2. i love chipotle and glad to know that they seek humane sources for their meat.

    i try to do my best by buying locally, the only lobster i eat comes from right outside my door!! lol

  3. sigh!!! This post means I have to think! That’s difficult to do. sigh!
    Kidding aside, thank you for making me think.
    I wish I could say that I only buy local. I don’t. I try to buy local especially when fruits and veggies that I love are in season – like corn that is coming in, berries that are in, etc. I am picky about veggies and fruits and don’t appreciate alot of the winter veggies so buying local in winter does not work as well.
    I use meat a few times a week though with guilty twinges.
    Like you and Donald I really like Chipotle and was very pleased to find that one had opened relatively close to us.
    I don’t have Donald’s access to lobster and I salivate anytime he mentions it.
    Again, thanks for making me think.

  4. I think I love bacon.

    I also know pigs are very smart- a friend who was a farmer said, never spend time with pigs. you realize how smart and aware they are and… well… it’s hard to take them to slaughter.

    I still like bacon.

    but then, I eat veal, too.

  5. and lamb, mmmm. I grew up on a farm in which all the animals were free range, butchered and eaten by my family. O.K., we did lock up the chickens at night. I guess to say for their own protection is short sighted. We also respected the animals, primarily because we knew they were our sustenance. I have to chuckle though to think my grandfather would ever call it honoring the “pigness of the pig”. When I went away to college, I found I ate less meat. There is a tremendous difference in the taste of free range and corporate operations. The social responsibility is not only to the animal but also to ourselves. How can you honor the animal or your own body by filling it with something that is a chemical replica of nature?

  6. Mmmm… we have a Chipotle across the street from my office so we all eat there WAY too much.

    This is a great post and the topic is one that has been on my mind a lot recently. Mr. Riot is a chef and strongly believes in growing your own food and buying locally as much as possible. As for meat, I have not eaten beef, pork, lamb, etc for almost 15 years now. I never liked any of it very much and I don’t miss it. It was a health decision, not an ethical one. Every few months I try to get myself weaned off of chicken, but I can’t ever follow through. I love chicken and seafood! We always buy free-range eggs and chicken, and we try to buy seafood that is not over-fished or likely to have a lot of mercury in it. That all can be pretty pricey. So I really appreciate food companies like Chipotle. And they let their corporate employees bring their dogs to work, so that wins them points with me!

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