Chipotle Seeks New Model for Quality Fast Food

Founder says buying from factory farms may be cheaper, but isn't worth it.

ByABC News
June 15, 2009, 1:16 PM

June 16, 2009 -- 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.

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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.