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“We are changing the way the world thinks about and eats fast food,” says Chipotle Founder, Chairman and CEO Steve Ells. “Our commitment to working with like-minded suppliers who share our belief that food should be raised with respect for the environment, the animals, and the people involved is helping us make superior quality food, including naturally raised meat, accessible and affordable so everyone can eat better.”
That thinking is at the heart of a philosophy Ells calls “Food With Integrity” that has Chipotle looking at all of the ingredients it uses to make its food, and how it can use ingredients from more socially responsible, sustainable sources. Under this philosophy, all Chipotle restaurants nationwide serve naturally raised pork, while about 85 percent serve naturally raised chicken, and more than half are serving naturally raised beef. In all, that will total more than 52 million pounds of naturally raised meat this year, more than any other restaurant company.
Beyond its use of naturally raised meat, all of the dairy products Chipotle serves are made with milk from cows that are not treated with the synthetic hormone rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), which is used to stimulate milk production in dairy cows. And 25 percent of all of its beans are organically grown, an amount that increases annually as additional supply becomes available.
Ells’ quest to make Chipotle the first restaurant chain to serve naturally raised meat began in 1999. That’s when an article by food writer Ed Behr prompted him to look at the farms of Niman Ranch, a network of family owned farms that were raising pigs in traditional ways, on open pastures or in deeply bedded barns and without the use of antibiotics or added hormones. Visits to Niman Ranch farms and to the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that provide most of the nation’s pork made Ells’ decision an easy one.
“I don’t want Chipotle’s success to contribute to the kind of exploitation I see on CAFOs and industrial farms,” Ells says. “Now we are using our size and purchasing power not just to make better food in our restaurants, but to help create a better food supply system.”
“That article probably accomplished the most concrete good of anything I’ve written,” Behr wrote several years later in his quarterly publication, The Art of Eating, noting that, “Steve Ells read the article and began to buy pork from Niman. AoE may never again have so much practical influence for the good.”
But Behr is not alone in noticing Chipotle’s impacts to improve the nation’s food supply. Others have commended Chipotle for its commitment to animal welfare and socially responsible food.
“We have applauded Chipotle a number of times,” says Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Factory Farms Campaign for the Humane Society of the United States. “That a company like Chipotle can have a successful business model while not supporting the abuses in the agribusiness industry is a positive sign. Companies ought to be rewarded for helping to reduce animal suffering.”