Creating sparks

by MEAT&POULTRY Staff
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Is Chipotle Mexican Grill ready for its close-up? The chain, which advertises it serves "food with integrity," has entered into what describes as a "promotional partnership" with Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media and River Road Entertainment to help promote the controversial documentary film "Food, Inc." Beginning this week, Chipotle is sponsoring free screenings in 32 cities nationwide and has already placed promotional materials for the film in its restaurants.

"Food, Inc.," directed by Robert Kenner and featuring onscreen commentary from best-selling journalists Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation") and Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore’s Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food"), purports to show the damaging impact on food safety, animal welfare and human workforces of "industrial" agriculture and food production. It has received several positive, even enthusiastic, critical notices ("an informative, often infuriating activist documentary about the big business of feeding or, more to the political point, force-feeding, Americans all the junk that multinational corporate money can buy," opined Manohla Dargis in the New York Times), but meat industry organizations have criticized the documentary as biased and misinformed, and several have allied at http://www.safefoodinc.org/ to combat the impressions given by the film.

Chris Arnold, spokesman for Chipotle, told MEATPOULTRY.com that the chain is supporting "Food, Inc." "to spark dialog." "We maintain that that discussion has been lacking. We’ve been trying to promote just this kind of discussion for a long time, so partnering with the film was a natural fit."

He said the free screenings the chain has sponsored so far have all been full – more than 100 people were turned away from a Chipotle-sponsored screening in Denver this week, he noted. "The response so far has been quite positive. I think people left the screenings feeling like they had learned something," he said.

Chipotle buys much of the meat it sells from Niman Ranch and Coleman Natural Foods, two of the leading purveyors of so-called "natural" meat products as well as leading proponents of higher-standard animal welfare practices. The chain also buys produce from Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms in Virginia, who is featured in the film and who is also described at length in "The Omnivore’s Dilemma." Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Arnold said Chipotle has not heard from any of its suppliers who might be concerned with the documentary’s content.

He also said that nothing in "Food, Inc." will change Chipotle’s sourcing or how it does business. "We are in philosophical alignment with the point of view of the film, but we sort of arrived at our own set of conclusions independently and a while ago," he told MEATPOULTRY.com. "Our slogan, ‘food with integrity,’ is the same idea that the film is trying to promote. That’s why we’re involved."

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