Chipotle To Increase Use of Local Produce

Chipotle is ramping up its use of locally grown ingredients by 10 million pounds.

Already strongly focused on sourcing as naturally and sustainably raised ingredients as a large restaurant chain can profitably source, Chipotle is hardly making a major shift with this decision.  Since 2008, it has included local produce as a company priority.  And as for how big a change this is, it’s tough to tell.  10 million pounds sounds like an awful lot of produce, but at major national chains the amount of food served in total each day is staggering.

Chipotle Burrito

Word association. Chipotle: Hiring practices, federal investigation, illegal immigrants, local produce

But the announcement comes at a time when Chipotle may need some good press.  It’s grown very quickly and gained an enormous following, and it’s about to launch a new Asian themed spinoff.  But it just got slapped with news of a criminal investigation earlier this year into its hiring practices.  Feds are concerned that the restaurant employs illegal immigrants on a grand scale.

Announcing a goal to increase its use of locally sourced food may make the restaurant look better in the meantime.

But how much will this actually do for its customers and its communities?  I’m somewhat skeptical of the “local” concept to begin with.  True, locally sourced produce is apt to retain more of its nutrients, and potentially taste better and fresher, than produce that’s sat on a truck for several days and was picked before ripening so as to afford it a longer shelf life.  But I’m not sure the benefits go much further.

Local communities may benefit from the change, but from an economics standpoint there are very strong arguments against favoring one’s own local suppliers against trade with more distant producers.  It sounds great in theory but in no way ensures that your community will be better off.  (Often, other communities retaliate and then you lose their business too.  What’s so bad about working together?).  I’m also not 100% certain why we’d want to avoid buying from farmers in another state–are they any less good human beings than farmers within a 100 mile radius of your home?

What’s more, Chipotle’s definition of “local” is farms within 350 miles of any given restaurant.  That is quite a distance, and probably requires that your ingredients sit on a truck for quite some time nonetheless.

But the pledge to buy more locally certainly sounds good, and if it means I’m getting fresher, tastier and more nutritious produce then I certainly won’t complain.

Do you find that locally sourced produce tastes better?

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8 Responses to Chipotle To Increase Use of Local Produce

  1. The benefits go a lot farther…there is a huge environmental impact in shipping goods long distances (increased packages, refrigeration, fuel. etc)…all leading to greater energy consumption and waste.

    • Doug says:

      Melissa,

      Certainly there is an environmental benefit to buying local, and you are very right to point it out. I did not do that aspect of the “buying local” justice in this post. Touche.

      I would like to call your attention to an earlier piece I posted about the greenhouse gas savings of buying local, because I do address this issue in detail in that post. On the balance the impact of buying local on overall agricultural greenhouse gas emissions (which are what refrigeration, fuel and, to some degree, increased packaging (in addition to being a waste issue), really boil down to) are real, and are certainly a very good reason to buy local.

      At the same time, the fossil fuel/emissions benefit of buying local is very small compared to the impact of using fossil fuel based fertilizers and pesticides in conventional farming. So as much as I like to see Chipotle buying locally, I fear that it appears to place a greater emphasis on buying local than on buying organic. The nutritional benefits of buying local are real, and so are the environmental benefits. But at least from a pollution/greenhouse gas perspective, the benefits of buying organic have been shown far to exceed those of buying local, as described in that earlier post.

      But it would have been more appropriate for me to raise this issue in the context of a comparison with buying organic, rather than simply in the context of whether or not to buy local. I am certainly all for buying local to the extent that it improves nutrition and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. I just feel that sometimes organics take second place in people’s minds to buying local, and I’m not convinced that it should.

      Sometimes I also assume that because I’ve made certain observations in prior post there’s no need to make them again in a new post. But you are right to point out the genuine environmental benefits to buying local. Kudos for picking this up.
      Doug

      • Obviously I am a periodic reader of your blog and was not familiar with that previous post nor did I catch your comparison of local vs organic in this post. That said, I generally choose organic over local myself for those very same reasons enumerated in your reply.

        • Doug says:

          You made a very good point that I didn’t address, very much appreciate your input. And happy to hear you are favoring organic!

  2. Really I don’t get your strife with the local practices of Chipolte… Do you have family/friends in another state and would rather have their products than the “local” ones?…

    So what if the local farmers get first dibs?, last time I checked this puts money in the state economy and thus creates jobs, more tax paying citizens and actually promotes an organic lifestyle even more…

    The con that your suggesting really isn’t even relevant and shows that you have a deeper gripe with Chipolte on a whole and not just their practices

    • Doug says:

      Jahmorly,

      I appreciate your sharing your thoughts. I have certainly provoked a powerful reaction with this one.

      I like Chipotle a great deal. (See my posts here, here, here and here expressing my devotion to the company, which devotion has continued even since my turning vegan.) Maybe it would be more fair for me to say that I’d prefer to see them focusing on improving their growing practices than on sourcing locally. It’s still not clear how a large proportion of their chickens and dairy cattle are raised, for instance. The restaurant makes few promises. I would rather have food that’s produced properly (naturally raised meat, organic produce) than locally. “Local” by no means ensures “organic,” and I think the latter is far more important, in terms of health and in terms of fossil fuel/emissions.

      I certainly value the nutritional impact of buying local. Not only does “local” produce get to you faster, so that less of its nutrition has been lost over time, but if “local” is truly local, it can mean that produce ripens on the vine/tree/etc. which can even further increase the nutritional benefits. There are also fossil fuel savings to buying local. I’ve described these in this previous post, where I break out the benefits of buying local in greater detail.

      Still, there are a couple arguments repeatedly made in favor of buying “local” that I have a harder time swallowing. The economic argument never seems to me to be as sure a thing as people take for granted. We can decide to buy only from farmers in our own state; but then people in other states tend to start doing the same, and so our famers lose their business. No new business is created; people aren’t eating any more than they were before, are they? But now our local farmers just can’t sell to people in other states anymore. They can only sell to us, and we can only eat what they grow. What has anybody gained?

      This arrangement also tends to reduce trade, which in much economic theory also does not make people better off. Some regions are better at farming, so why not let them farm? And other regions are better at producing other goods, so why not let them produce? Then we trade, and get the best of both worlds. Otherwise we’re all going about producing everything mediocrely ourselves. This is obviously a simplistic way of putting it, but there’s hardly an economic consensus around the idea that buying locally makes people better off. Yet the argument is often put forth in favor of buying local food, without any sort of qualification.

      Fossil fuels/emissions is the second argument I take some issue with. There are unquestionably benefits, but I think they’re smaller than people typically acknowledge. I discussed the issue in greater deal here.

      I certainly have no gripe with Chipotle and think they’re doing amazing things. They’re the only “fast food” type restaurant I eat at, and I’ve eaten there probably more than all but its most devoted followers. One of the big reasons is that it’s a big leader in improving the way the food it serves is produced. I assure you, I give Chipotle three cheers every day. I just think there are ways in which “buying local” is good, and ways in which it’s less good. I’d rather see Chipotle focus in issues of production that I think have a bigger impact. And I’d rather see people talk in a more balanced fashion about the pluses and minuses of “buying local.”

      I appreciate your chiming in on the discussion and am always happy to hear your thoughts, particularly if they diverge from my own.
      Doug

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