Healthy Skepticism – The Chipotle Video

I’m starting a new series entitled “Healthy Skepticism”. In our world of confusing labeling, genetically modified foods, and very creative marketing, it’s important to ask hard questions before purchasing food. Each month, I’m going to tackle a different advertisement, video, or food label, demonstrating how consumers need to be skeptical when evaluating claims.  I hope we’ll all be more educated and ultimately make better choices.

Have you seen this video?

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What a great vision. A farmer realizes the error of his industrial ways, choosing to return to a more pastured, sustainable production method. He breaks down the factory, rotates his crops, and delivers a small box of food to Chipotle on a small truck. The video expresses a desire to “go back to the start,” raising animals and growing food the way it was intended to be done. No chemicals. Nothing synthetic. All natural. The video also implies that Chipotle’s food comes from farms like these (the truck has a Chipotle logo).

Like many people, I loved the idea of this video. A casual viewer might naturally conclude Chipotle serves a different kind of food: pastured animals raised without genetically-modified feed or antibiotics, no genetically-modified ingredients. I wanted to get excited, praising Chipotle for changing their supply chain and patronizing their restaurants with my family.  Unfortunately, I’ve learned to use a little healthy skepticism when evaluating food packaging and advertising. I started reading, asked myself some questions, and looked into what they’re really serving, right now.

1. Is their chicken pasture-raised without antibiotics, hormones, or anything artificial? Does their feed come from genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?

Chipotle’s answer –  “By U.S. law, all chicken available today must be raised without added growth hormones and our ultimate goal is to have 100% of our chickens raised without the use of antibiotics. We also want to avoid any supplier that uses additional additives in their feed, like arsenic.”

My take on this – They comply with the law, like all other restaurants. Their goal is to have chicken raised without antibiotics. Also, they want to avoid suppliers that use additional additives. Notice the word “want”. I want to wait until they achieve their goals.

2. Is their beef raised on pasture (as the video implies), without antibiotics and hormones, and fed a non-GMO diet?

Chipotle’s answer – “We purchase much of our beef from ranches that meet or exceed our naturally raised standards. We’re still working on it, and we won’t rest until 100% of our beef is naturally raised.”  “Naturally raised” is defined by Chipotle as “raised in a humane way, fed a vegetarian diet, never given hormones and allowed to display their natural tendencies.”  They assert “over 60% of our beef is naturally raised.”

My take on it – I applaud the desire to work with ranchers and agree that we need to set higher standards. The video and pictures on their website show cows eating grass. I hope a “vegetarian diet” means pasture, since cows don’t naturally eat genetically modified corn, soy, or any grain for that matter.

3. Does their dairy come from pastured cows, raised without any hormones, antibiotics, or GMO grain?

Chipotle’s answer – “An increasing percentage of the dairy we serve at Chipotle comes from pasture-raised cows. We are working all the time to increase the number of our suppliers who provide pasture-raised dairy.”

My take on it – I think you see the pattern now.  Again, I’m glad they’re trying to increase the percentage of dairy from pasture-raised cows. says, “We’re definitely working on it.  Stay tuned.” Let’s do that.

4. Is Chipotle’s food free of GMOs?

Chipotle’s answer, via a post by Eat Play Love – “We cannot guarantee that the corn used in our corn tortillas is non-GMO at this time. The field corn used to feed our livestock is also not organic (we don’t buy organic meat today) and so we cannot guarantee that it is non-GMO.”

My take on it – These sentences could just as accurately say, “The corn used in our tortillas and feed has been genetically modified.” That’s not really “on-message,” though. Like nearly all chain restaurants, they use genetically modified corn and feed for their livestock.

Also, look at the nutritional information on the Chipotle website – they use soybean oil to cook almost everything: burrito tortillas, taco tortillas, taco shells, cilantro-lime rice, black beans, pinto beans, fajita vegetables, barbacoa, chicken, steak, chips, vinaigrette, breakfast eggs, relish, chorizo, potatoes, and pozole soup. Soybean oil is highly processed and most of the soy in the U.S. is genetically modified (unless it’s certified organic).

I wrote Chipotle, asking if they use GMO rennet in their cheese (rennet is an enzyme used in the production of cheese). The response: “Right now, the only entirely non-GMO ingredients we can guarantee are the corn in our corn-poblano salsa, all our tomatoes, the portion of our beans that are organic and the organic cilantro we are serving in select markets. We cannot guarantee that any of our other foods are non-GMO at this time but we are looking at this for the future. The reason we can’t guarantee GMO free for most of our foods is that GMO foods are not segregated or labeled in this country, and the only way you can tell generally if something is GMO free is if it’s labeled specifically as organic. The price point for organic is too high for us for most of our foods, which is why we cannot guarantee GMO free ingredients for most of our foods. As a result we cannot guarantee that the rennet used in our cheese is GMO free.”

My take on it: Right now there is most likely GMO rennet in the cheese.

That’s a ton of GMO ingredients. Here are a few recent articles discussing the dangers of GMOs:

12 Reasons to Avoid GMOs

Genetically Engineered Maize: New Indication of Health Risks

Monarch Butterfly Deaths from GM Pollen 

I understand Chipotle is striving to change things and really hope they achieve their goals. In the meantime, let’s not be fooled. They haven’t gone “back to the start” yet. Notice how well-crafted their marketing campaign is. Other companies use similar methods. They use words like “natural”, “integrity”, and “sustainable” to make consumers think they’re getting a superior product, when they usually aren’t.

We, as consumers, can help by campaigning for labeling and buying organic foods. I’d wager a fully organic Chipotle location would prosper – even with higher prices.

Because we can’t count on marketing with integrity, we need accurate labeling. We also need to educate ourselves so we can wade through the crafty wording advertisers are paid to write. Let’s do that together.

I hope in the future I can change this post and help spread the word that Chipotle serves non-GMO food, cooked with unprocessed oils, and buys all their meat from farmers who raise animals the way they were intended to be raised. For now, I’ll continue watching with skepticism.

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  1. I am currently completing a Masters of Communication & Culture and I am writing my thesis on exactly this (nutritional literacy, deceptive food packaging, marketing schemes, etc.)–looking forward to what this new series of yours will bring to the table!

  2. This is why I am skeptical of eating out. You can’t never believe 100% what you are told or read when it comes to food claims, especially here in the US. I have had The best safest way is just to keep eating home and try to buy the best quality ingredients. The food industry gets away with a lot so taking your approach and educating yourself is the best avenue one can take!! Great job on this. Can’t wait for you following video.

  3. Peyton

    I loved this post. My question is–do you eat out and when you do, where do you eat? I eat mostly at home with ingredients that I’m comforatble with, but there are sometimes when I just want to grab a bite to eat while I’m out shopping, etc. The two restaurants I allow myself to eat at with some regularity are (were?) Chipotle and Jason’s Deli. Chipotle, for what I thought were valid efforts at using higher quality ingredients and Jason’s Deli because they have antibiotic-free chicken and several organic items on their menu (and zero trans fats on the menu)–I mean, it has to be better than eating at McDonald’s, right? We also dine out at a few nicer restaurants and when we do, I just try to make the best choices I can and say a prayer that whatever I’m eating will not harm me! I’m looking forward to the rest of this series…it just goes to show that even those of us who aren’t “newbies” at eating organically/real food can still learn something :)

    • Deliciously Organic

      Good question! :) We do eat out on occasion, but we’re pretty particular. Since we don’t eat out often (maybe every few months) we don’t mind going to a more expensive restaurant (I’d rather pay $100 for a great meal, then $20 every couple weeks for something less nourishing). Right now we live close to LA so there are many options. Heck, there’s even a butcher in LA that only sells pastured, organic meats. That’s a rarity!

      If I know I’ll be out running errands, I usually bring along some food. When we travel I do some homework, and am usually able to find a good local place. If not, I go to a health food store and grab some good cheese, nuts, fruit, etc.

      Again, it’s all about being educated and then making a decision you think is best. That’s great you’ve found that Jason’s deli has some organic and less-processed items on their menu! And yes, I’d agree that it’s better than McDonalds. :)

      • Andrea

        This new segment is great! My family recently converted ( about a month now) to real food. The area I struggle with is the dilemma of going out to eat and the newfound knowledge of how bad most everything is on the menu. I would love to find somewhere that serves local organic but am unsure about how to do this. Do you have any suggestions for researching and locating restaurants that meet your healthy lifestyle? Thanks a bunch!

        • Deliciously Organic

          I’m glad your family is making changes! Going out to eat can be quite the headache and in my opinion, you have to pick what’s most important to you. So for example, if you want to stay away from trans fats or vegetable oils then you can make that a priority when looking for a restaurant. Urbanspoon is a good resource, as well as, and It’s also helpful to call the restaurant and ask what ingredients they use. Hope that helps!

  4. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Steve Ells – the founder of Chipotle – at a dinner party – and he will be the first to admit that it’s not yet 100% but they really are trying – my thought is better to support an organization that is making strides in the right direction than one that isn’t.

    • Yasmine

      My thought is, it’s better to show no support to any organization that hasn’t reached your standards than to just ‘settle’ because they are ‘trying’. This will force these companies to ‘Go back to the start’ and stop serving their loyal customers GMO foods, and other unhealthy products. I fell in love with Chipotle Mexican Grill the first time I tried it. However, after looking at their website and the meats they use, and seeing all the empty promises, I was suddenly sick to my stomach. Nothing would please me more if they could actually guarantee their customers of wholesome, healthy food (all around the board) – but, they CAN’T.

  5. Wow. I have a LOT of mixed thoughts on this…
    First, after visiting Chipolte recently, I was sure I saw something in writing that said the food/corn specifically was organic (meaning non-GMO if according to national labeling laws, right?) . Did I dream this up?? Is there false advertising going on here? The new video is misleading at best.

    Second, I went to Chipolte’s website and it also reinforces this impression… that they pretty much have this thing down. There is even a news clip video with Joel Salatin, whom I admire greatly. Again, misleading at best.

    On the other hand, if Chipolte is making this big of an effort and they STILL don’t have it down, what does that say about all the other restaurants – fast food or otherwise. I think we can pretty much assume that it is A.L.L. genetically modified food. If so, Chipolte may be one of our better options at the moment when going “out” to eat. Hopefully, they’ll continue until they cross over entirely and they won’t give up until they do.

    I’m eating at home as much as possible.

  6. My husband is obsessed with their food, having been a fan from the opening of their first restaurant, so we do eat from there often. The video is lovely and gives you a nice warm feeling watching it, but Chipotle has gotten ahead of themselves. They answered your questions accurately, but with way too much spin for my taste. I applaud that they are trying to provide a better product, but I don’t think they have gone far enough to warrant that video.

  7. Karen

    Thanks for sharing! I went to our local Jimbo’s for pastured fed, organic beef, they had several options including a less expensive option that is “fed grain 90 days before slaughter”. What does that mean????
    I didn’t ask if the grains was non gmo or organic. Good questions to follow up with. I assumed it wasn’t quite what I was looking for so I purchased the more expensive cut. Not sure I made the right choice considering your findings at Chipotle.

    • Karen, my advice is to read Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” He explains it beautifully and the book is SO informative. (I checked it out from our library, and they only had the Junior Reader edition available, and it read great)

    • Deliciously Organic

      That usually means that they were on pasture and then fed corn and/or soy for 90 days before slaughter (good idea to ask if the grain was non-gmo or not). From what I understand, even a small amount of grain will alter the nutritional value of the meat (less omega-3 fatty acids and CLA). Here’s a study that discusses the nutritional value of pastured vs. grain finished beef:

  8. This is wonderful Carrie! It’s times like these that I am grateful we raise our own beef. I think spreading the word and urging for proper labeling is so important. I want to know exactly what I’m paying for. As far as Chipotle, I haven’t eaten there but I’ll try to stay up to date on their efforts.

  9. I am so happy to find your website/blog. I am a vegetarian and it is so great to ‘meet’ like-minded, healthy eaters. I love your recipes and I find that most all recipes can be adapted to vegan/vegetarian with just a little thought and creativity, not to mention adaptation…
    Love what you are doing here!
    Thank you!

    (I am developing a blog that will include healthy eating as well as other topics! I would like to use some of your recipes, giving you full credit, of course! Is that possible?)

  10. Lindsey

    THANK YOU!! I’m so excited for this new series you’re starting….it’s so nice having someone (you) that I feel we can trust doing the research for us. I greatly appreciate you taking your time to do this for us!!

  11. Julie McClung

    I think what you’re pointing out is good. However, having family that owns a meat processing plant for grass-fed, hormone & antibiotic free meats, I know that it is hard for them to supply enough to furnish one Chipotle (which they do) with the good meats. Supply is an issue when it comes to obtaining such high-quality meats for hugely-popular restaurants. And, likely, for everything else they’re “striving” to change. It necessarily will take time to implement changes franchise-wide. As more people are educated about GMO’s and also the healthfulness of grass-fed, hormone-free, and antibiotic-free meats, more hopefully continue to turn towards raising their meats this way, resulting in restaurants (namely Chipotle in this case) being able to fulfill the need.

    Now, perhaps their marketing campaign was deceivingly premature, but perhaps grace might be given to a company that is actually trying to turn things in the right/ healthy direction. For there are far too few in their arena.

    • Tamara Wineland

      I agree Julie. Carrie, do you ALWAYS eat organic, unprocessed, whole foods? I feel they are trying to go in the right direction, more than I can say for a whole slew of other companies. Before you start uncovering companies for what they aren’t doing, maybe you should applaud them for what they ARE doing and encourage people to support businesses reaching for higher standards. After all, we are a capitalist nation. We vote with our dollar and, as we continue to do so for organic, free range, naturally raised products, the supply will increase as well.

      • Deliciously Organic

        As I stated in the post, I applaud their goals and truly hope they achieve them. I look forward to the day when I can eat a meal at Chipotle and be served non-GMO food that’s locally sourced, free of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. I was very excited when I saw the video, so I went to their site to see the exact ingredients they are using. When I read through the list, I thought it would be important for others to understand that we can’t always take advertising at face value. We need to look at what’s happening now, and not only at what a company hopes to achieve in the future. But again, I believe Chipotle is headed in the right direction and look forward to watching their journey to serve unprocessed foods at all of their locations.

        I have made efforts over the years to promote many companies on this site that are producing or selling organic, unprocessed foods. I make sure to link to them, praise them, post about them on Facebook, tweet about them, and promote their efforts. And I agree with you, we vote with our dollar. I prefer not to support companies like Monsanto and truly hope for labeling in the future. For me, not supporting Monsanto means not buying GMO food. So I do my best to find out where the foods are coming from that I purchase. I try to support companies and farmers who are growing and raising foods in an organic and sustainable way. This is a personal choice, and I understand that others might not agree.

  12. Lucy- thanks for your comment. I agree that they aren’t perfect, but they are doing a much better job than any other fast food places I know. I would be happy to support them in this process. Their food is amazing!

  13. Susan M

    I’ve only been to Chipotle a few times and both were just north of LA. Each time I went I remember laughing at the sign that stated they were currently out of their “select cage-free chicken” and the chicken being served was regular chicken. Same sign each time I went over the course of a few months. It just cracked me up because it seemed to be something they were proud of yet couldn’t guarantee to the customer. I applaud their efforts, but hope they don’t just leave it where it stands just so they can appear to be conscience of what they are serving. A little less talk Chipotle and lot more action, please…..

  14. Hi Carrie,
    those are beautiful news. I will surely follow this series. I was not born in USA, and I had the luck to spend most of my life in country where GMO is not allowed by law. And I can tell you, there is an enormous difference between this, and organic food. I understand demands of global food market, but I think that health should comes first. This video is just amazing. You have my support with this series. Have a nice weekend.

  15. Mike

    Isn’t it ironic that the food police attack the food purveyors making a legitimate effort to serve good food when 95% of the restaurants and grocery stores make no effort. Seems like there ate others who deserve this wrath besides Chipolte.

    • Deliciously Organic

      The difference between Chipotle and other food purveyors is that Chipotle has put themselves out to tell the world they are different and are serving local, sustainable, and natural food. I think their goals are noble, and as I stated in the post, I hope they achieve their goals (I’m excited for the day when I can go to Chipotle and eat non-GMO food that’s locally sourced, free of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics). I think it’s important to recognize the facts about where they are now versus what their advertising says.

  16. mich

    Thanks so much Carrie for taking the time to point this out. I agree wholeheartedly that it is up to us to look behind what is being advertised otherwise its like we are asleep at the wheel. Thanks for taking this on – I look forward to this series!

  17. Stephanie McAllister

    I really value learning all the details about Chipotle. I just like to KNOW. I think they are trying, but depending on the location, the food may vary. Our Chipotle listed with a sign (when they first opened) which farm they were buying their chicken from. So I researched that particular farm. I appreciate that they also posted when their “healthier chicken” from that farm was out and they had to use regular chicken. Some people who eat there don’t care…so what else can they (Chipotle) do…close down the restaurant? Stop serving chicken that day? or at least post something (I am glad they did). I also know where the cheese comes from (it is local) at our Chipotle, so I checked them out. Each Chipotle is different as they try to buy locally. Ask them and do some research. It has to be hard to have a chain and stay consistent across the board. I applaud them….but at the same time, Carrie is right, we have to keep reading and learning IF we want to only eat these non-GMO, organic-type foods. I would rather know than not know the details. We can’t go on just advertisements. Even the “healthy” food at the HEALTH FOOD store can’t be trusted. Each product or food you eat will have to be checked out if you care that deeply. Some of us do, some of us don’t care about 100% of our food, 100% of the time.

    Jason’s Deli seems to be another chain striving for healthier alternatives. Not everything there though is 100% perfect….but they are trying. I appreciate that they serve WILD sockeye salmon and some organic ingredients and have NO HFCS. A lot has to change before we see CHAIN restaurants that serve perfect food 100% of the time. We need to support our local farms and non-GMO foods and push for labeling…and get the supply up of those healthy foods or a chain will never survive. Until then, I will eat at Chipotle and Jason’s Deli type places – picking some things over others – to support them and as sometimes my only option. Otherwise we eat at local healthy restaurants or eat at home.

  18. Andy

    Nice write-up and I agree with your assessment. I wrote them to request whether or not they use GM
    ingredients. I eat almost entirely organic and most of it is locally sourced from farms in the area or
    otherwise from small organic farms] manufacturers that I trust. Eating out for me is popping into a local
    co-op and grabbing something from their salad/hot bar for lunch or one of three restaurants in the area
    that use mostly organic ingredients…. normally eating out for dinner is a couple times a month. Having
    a couple young kids really highlights the need to constantly eat this way not to mention it feels right. So,
    like yourself I’m cautious about choosing new places to grab a bite to eat.

    After recently starting a new job and wanting to grab an occasional bite to eat with my coworkers, I
    found Chipotle to be the least offending place in the area in terms of my own personal standards. I do
    commend them for doing what they’ve done so far and also recognize that it is not easy for a large
    business to source everything from small and organic farms. My biggest concern is that they are using
    GM corn and soy considering 8o+% of corn and 9o+% of soy grown in the US is GM. I can skip the corn
    and still get something to eat, but the soy is in soy oil galore. For that reason, I plan to
    encourage them to use a different oil. Sunflower would be a decent alternative. Coconut is my favorite
    cooking oil, but that’s expensive and can alter the flavor enough to notice. I’m only one voice, but hope
    others will take note and do the same. Every little bit counts. Personally, I’d pay considerably more if
    they offered no GM ingredients and more organic ingredients.

  19. Andy

    I received a reply from Chipotle that was in line with what I expected and also a bit encouraging considering their recognition of the GM issue and plans to deal with it…

    “We appreciate your concern with regards to GMOs. Right now, we cannot guarantee that we are GMO free. The reason we can’t guarantee GMO free for most of our foods is that GMO foods are not segregated or labeled in this country, and like you mentioned the only way you can tell generally if something is GMO free is if it’s labeled specifically as organic. Although we do serve some organics, the price point is too high for us for most of our foods. As a result of this we cannot guarantee GMO free ingredients for most of our foods. However, we do serve some items that come from sources that take extra effort to guarantee them to be GMO free. For example, the sweet corn in our corn-poblano salsa comes from a supplier who does not purchase GM seed. They also maintain a more-than-safe buffer zone between their fields and neighboring fields to prevent any cross pollination. This corn is also grown in the Pacific Northwest, near the facility that processes this corn.

    The two items that could have GMO varieties that we use are soybean oil and the corn used in our chips and corn taco shells. While these are not specifically GM, they are not organic and we do not have measures in place that guarantee that the soybeans or the corn used in our chips or corn tortillas are coming from GMO-free sources. We also cannot guarantee that the corn starch used on the flour tortillas are GMO-free either. However, we are using GMO-free sunflower and rice bran oil in many of our restaurants and we plan to replace our soybean oil entirely with these GMO-free oils.

    We are heavily committed to continuing to improve all of our foods and their sources constantly, and GMO concerns are very important to us as well. We promise to continue improvements in our food supplies for the years ahead and we hope to have your support as we do so.”


  1. […] Take a look at Carrie’s post to see the questions she has posed for Chipotle about their practices and how they have made some important distinctions about how they portray themselves vs. what they actually do. She points out a lot of clever language being used to portray their values as being wholesome and righteous. We, as consumers, can help by campaigning for labeling and buying organic foods. I’d wager a fully organic Chipotle location would prosper even with higher prices. […]

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