I’ve been watching the fallout of the Chipotle cartoon commercial with interest. Part of me didn’t want to write about it – let’s remember this is a commercial to sell a retail product or products. Whether it seems good or bad, they are definitely getting a boatload of exposure because of it. Of course, the other part of me says “You have a blog now. Use it.”
This was the first time I saw the Chipotle commercial. As I was getting into Willie’s crooning, my heart sank. I LOVE that Coldplay song – one of my favorites, though I identified with it a bit differently when it first came out. And even though my dairy farmer and I are more like the small-farm guy pasturing the cows outside, I felt very angry that Chipotle would blatantly perpetuate a mistaken notion of “factory farms” or really large scale agriculture. While the term “factory farm” is debatable – in my estimation all farms are some sort of “factory” – I have friends and acquaintances that operate very large farms and do excellent jobs of taking care of their animals. In fact in some cases they are probably able to do a better job at certain things than we can.
We have a 30-cow grass-based dairy in rural Vermont. That means we graze our cows when we can and feed them a “TMR” (total mixed ration – a mixture of different feed ingredients) that is based on grass silage that we make in the summer and fall. The TMR includes corn and soy products and other important food and vitamins and minerals. Currently the cows are cooped up in the barn because despite other areas in the Northeast, winter still came to our area and there is ice and snow on the ground with cold temperatures. Perhaps I’m being too literal with the commercial but did it mean that we shouldn’t farm in cold areas but only where the cows and pigs can go outside all the time? Somewhere like California? Is this really a conspiracy to end agriculture in areas where it gets cold and the weather gets bad? And what about the recent increase in incidents involving wild boars? Are these really escapees from grazing pig farms somewhere yearning to be feral pigs again? Okay, now I am getting carried away.
Again, my heart sank when I watched the pigs being moved along an assembly line from a warehouse, going into a building along with what could only be a representation of antibiotics and green liquid. What was the green liquid? And then moved along and boxed up and put onto trucks. Gosh, so heartless. Then the farmer all of the sudden grows a conscience about the pills and green sludge coming out through a tap? Like the farmer didn’t have a conscience all along? Not true. Not fair. Not cool.
What surprises me most and I don’t mean to offend anyone, are the small farmers I see – some larger than us but still considered small – who loved the commercial. Really? I think that’s what is really sad. Maybe I don’t get it. To me, this is no better than political rivals and dirty campaign tricks using negative advertising. It’s no better than putting down a product just to make yours look better. It’s no better than making a false claim simply to boost profits, especially when a company cannot follow through on promises made – there’s no disclaimer on the commercial that reads “we source these products as such when available.” And we wonder why we have such an epidemic with bullying in our schools.
The thing is, in agriculture, there’s room for all of us. We all need each other because we’re in it together. We can have small farms that focus on local food production and large farms that focus on feeding the rest of the world and we don’t have to fight or perpetuate myths that we know to be untrue. We don’t need to bash each other because some company is looking for a “general higher-level message” in order to better connect with its customers. We need to keep telling our stories in a positive way, focusing on the care we give to our animals, the concern we have for the sustainability of our natural resources and the seriousness with which we take our role in our communities.
With our diversity comes greater innovation, advancement, success in the form of sustainability including economic sustainability and certainly more voices sharing the story of what it’s like to live on or work on our respective farms. The picture of agriculture is colored with many different hues and we can show the non-farmers out there that it’s not just black and white. Putting another group down or creating unfounded fear or misguided perceptions has far too often become the norm. I suppose to take advantage of misguided perceptions in consumers’ mind is just another form of capitalism, but at what moral expense?
My farm family and I will continue to support our one agricultural industry, our diversity within it and the ability we have to not only feed the world but to also offer choices when it comes to food production.
A few tidbits to share:
There are many good posts about this, but here’s one that I found a particularly good read: CrystalCattle
My favorite quote from this statement put out by the American Society of Animal Science:
“Chipotle, like any company, is advertising a fantasy. Coca-cola has smiling polar bears, Old Spice has manly men and Chipotle has a cartoon farm. Chipotle did not try to represent science or agriculture truthfully; instead, it made a commercial.”