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.

VIDEO: Chipotles Fast Food Facelift

Watch the full story tonight on "Nightline" TONIGHT at 11:35 p.m.

The slow-food movement, which seeks to connect food on the table with its source, may not be on the verge of overtaking the fast-food industry. But for Chipotle -- frequently grouped in the fast-food category -- the extra cost of buying from smaller, specialty farmers like Salatin is worth it.

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."

Salatin's great example is founded on a view of livestock that not every farmer holds. He wants his pigs to be, well, happy.

Chipotle: 'The Pigness of the Pig'

"The beauty of this is they get to choose what they eat, whether they want to eat green material, whether they want to eat the local ... grain, so we trust the pig to make that decision, you know, on what he wants to eat," Salatin said.

Then he elaborated.

"The other thing is that 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."

Ells had a more prosaic take on the virtues of smaller farms.

"Well, first of all, you can breathe here and it smells great," he said. "You can't breathe in a confinement operation. The odor is horrific. And you can see the terror in the pigs' eyes. And they scurry away from you. And they are chewing on the metal bars. And it's so unpleasant. And when I first saw that 10 years ago, I knew that I never wanted to buy another confinement pig, and have that be part of our business model.

"So none of our pigs come from the factory farms anymore," he said. "They are outdoor raised or in deeply bedded barns. They are never given any antibiotics or growth hormones.

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