A Chipocritical Screening?

Yesterday, the Beekman Theater hosted and Chipotle sponsored the NYC free screening of Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc., the eye-opening documentary on US food industry that swept the country. As a sign of solidarity with the call for more organic and local foods, and less corporatism in the industry, Chipotle, the Mexican grill restaurant chain, sponsored a series of free screenings throughout the US.

Being aware of some of Chipotle’s suppliers’ unfair labor practices regarding farmworkers and especially tomato pickers in Florida, we were a little less than excited about the free screening. So, together with some friends of from CIW, we embarked on a little information campaign in front of the Beekman.

The huge queue looked promising and pretty much everyone showed some interest in learning more about Chipotle’s “food with integrity” vision and its flaws. Somehow the crowd’s enthusiasm about Food, Inc. spilled over onto our materials: the open letter that director Robert Kenner and co-producer/narrator Eric Schlosser signed and a pamphlet version of the “Challenging Chipocrisy” report.

Yes, the title sounds like an undeserved scathing critique of a company that is really trying hard. And yes, it is true that Chipotle has some great achievements: for example, in switching to free range meat as part of its vision for “food with integrity.” Also, as bloggers from the TakePart social network note, no one should judge the free screening initiative based on the fact that McDonalds previously owned Chipotle. But when it comes down to labor practices and improving working conditions for farmworkers, it seems like Chipotle has a long way to go. And it should, if the bold vision of “food with integrity” is to be an honest one. Quite reasonably, people interested in the issue would ask us whether we are anti-Chipotle. Not at all – while Chipotle’s efforts to promote sustainability in the corporate, fast-food sector are laudable but they also need to be more comprehensive and protect the rights of the human beings who harvest its “food with integrity.”