"When I opened the doors to the first Chipotle near the University of Denver in 1993, I didn't have a grandiose political statement in mind. Just the opposite, really.For more information about specifics go here.
What I wanted to do was simple: apply the techniques I had learned at the Culinary Institute of America and in professional kitchens into making great tasting burritos and tacos with the best ingredients I could find. Price them reasonably and serve them up in a hip, friendly, casual environment.
The concept seemed to me straight forward and altogether needed. Done well, it would let me show that food that was made fast didn't have to be like typical fast-food.
Of course it never occurred to me that someday we'd have hundreds of restaurants, and that each would strive to offer people something a little better.
One of the reasons I've always loved cooking is that it challenges me as much as it pleases me. I'm always looking for ways to improve upon what I've done.
For years, it bothered me that our carnitas didn't taste how I wanted them to. They weren't bad, but I knew they could be better. I tinkered with the recipe, but it still wasn't what I wanted.
One day I was reading acclaimed food writer Ed Behr's newsletter, The Art of Eating. In it he wrote about Niman Ranch and Paul Willis, a farmer in Thornton, Iowa who ran his hog farming program and raised pigs the old-fashioned way. The way it was done for many years before factory farms grew prominent in the 1960s and 70s.
The pigs Behr wrote about got to frolic in open pasture or root in deeply bedded barns. They weren't given antibiotics. The farmers who raised them truly cared about the welfare - and well-being - of the animals in their care.
In short, these farmers relied on care rather than chemicals, and practiced animal husbandry the way their parents and grandparents had, and their parents and grandparents before that.
Sometimes, moving forward means taking a few steps back.
After I read Behr's article, I knew that the trouble with our carnitas wasn't the recipe. It was the commodity pork we had been using.
The majority of pigs in this country are raised in extremely inhumane conditions. Often, thousands of pigs are crowded into a single confined facility, known as a CAFO or Confined Animal Feeding Operation.
Many of them spend their days in crates that don't allow them enough room to turn around. Some are housed together in group pens, but in quarters that are still so cramped they can't exhibit their normal tendencies. Animals are more prone to disease in confinement, so they are typically given antibiotics for most of their lives.
Learning about this dark side of modern agriculture made me want to find out how we could do things differently. So I got on a plane to Iowa to visit the Niman Ranch hog farms, including Paul Willis's. And that was where my own revelation took place. It was clear to me visiting Paul's farm that his way of raising pigs was a better way to do it. That's what I wanted for Chipotle.
In 2001, we began buying our pork from family farms like Paul's that raise pigs humanely and without antibiotics.
We call this return to old school animal husbandry naturally raised, and it's an essential part of our larger Food With Integrity mission to source the highest quality ingredients from the best sources. And, in the process, to help create a more sustainable food chain that emphasizes the welfare of people, animals, and the land.
Today, in addition to all of our pork, nearly 60 percent of our chicken and more than 40 percent of our beef is raised in this way. And someday soon, all of the meats we serve will be naturally raised.
It was very gratifying for me to read a recent interview with Ed Behr in which he said that the best thing to come from anything he had ever written had been the article on Niman Ranch and Paul Willis for how it influenced Chipotle to buy naturally raised pork. Indeed, Behr's article inspired us to use our size to fashion a more sustainable agriculture through Food With Integrity. And it led directly to Chipotle buying more naturally raised meat than any other restaurant in the country.
I never aimed to be an activist for family farms or sustainable agriculture, but I'm proud of the change we've helped to achieve. The vision I started out with at our first Chipotle has never dimmed. In fact, it has grown from meeting people like Paul Willis, whose own vision exemplifies the kind of change Food With Integrity is all about.
Food With Integrity is our mission, but we know that at the end of the day, we can't judge our own integrity. That's for our customers to decide. So all I can say is that we are still leading from what we believe is right, and constantly striving to improve the way we do things.:
There you have it. A good reason to eat at and support Chipotle.....
Oh yeah, and the food is awesome too!