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Chipotle, which I consider to serve the only real "healthy" fast food, is trying to go as local-grown (within 350 miles) as possible. This won't be easy in the Prairie States or New England, where most of the produce season runs from only June to September or October.

Chipotle was found by a hippie-ish idalist, Steve Ells. He eventually sold out to McDonald's, but maintained command over Chipotle products.

“Our commitment to serving food made with better ingredients from more sustainable sources is one of the key drivers of our business,” he said. "While sourcing produce locally can be difficult — particularly in regions with short growing seasons — we continue to find like-minded suppliers to allow us to serve this better food. Not only is local produce fresher and better tasting, but it also helps support the environment and regional farming communities around the country.”

Whenever possible, Chipotle works with local, family-owned farms to provide bell peppers, jalapenos, oregano, red onions, and romaine lettuce for its restaurants. In California, the company also sources locally grown lemons, cilantro, and avocados, and it gets tomatoes locally.

Here in San Diego, it's a snap, year round, benefiting local farmers in North County. I don't mean to advertise Chipotle or any other fast-food place, but I like the food there (maybe not as great as a good local taquueria, but a zillion times better than Taco Bell or the awful tacos at Jack's), and I like the founder's ideals. (Hurrah for hippies.)

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Hold on. The bulk of the calories served at Chipotle don't come from bell peppers, jalapenos, oregano, red onions and romaine lettuce, nor do they come from locally grown lemons, cilantro and avocados, or the tomatoes it gets locally.

What Chipotle serves is meat from agribusiness, beans from agribusiness, and flour tortillas made from agribusiness flour mills and fats from (sigh) agribusiness. None of those things are locally sourced unless I'm very mistaken, and so your monster burrito from Chipotle delivers 90+% of its calories from God-knows-where.

The "hippie-ish idealist" founder of Chipotle, Steve Ells, who claims to be in control is one of the inventors of the mega-portion, a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. Good grief, does anyone need to be eating a burrito that big? Does anyone really need to pay something in the $7 range for a burrito that doesn't even come with sit-down service?

Naomi, let's get a bit realistic here. Chipotle is far more a creature of McDonald's that it is sustainable agriculture.

July 2, 2011

Responding to Visduh -- Much of the beef at Chipotle is from Niman Ranch, which sort of straddles the line between small biz and agribiz. It started out as a tiny Northern California purveyor of hormone-free beef, called Niman-Schell, that actually came from one ranch. (As I recall, it was somewhere around Bolinas or Point Reyes, heartlands of aggie-hippieland.) As a San Franciscan during those years, I'd buy it whenever I found it, since the quality difference between that and supermarket beef (especially ground beef) was obvious to the palate. It rarely showed up in supermarkets, however, because many of the best local restaurants (e.g., Zuni, Fourth Street Grill in Berkeley) were glomming it all up.

Eventually Orville Schell pulled out and Niman (whose first name I've never learned) went on to expand, on a nationwide "co-op" profit-sharing model, buying only beef from ranchers who agreed to meet much higher quality and humaneness standards than, say, the skinny Brazilian cows feeding McD's customers. You'll find Niman beef (at much higher prices than at Chipotle!) in many of the top restaurants in town, particularly in "chef" hamburgers.

The carne asado burrito I ate there (and reviewed six years ago) was the closest approximation I'd found here to the superb carne asado burritos at La Cumbre in San Francisco -- a tiny taqueria, also with no service, where you'd follow your order along the counter specifying what you wanted and didn't want in your burrito (no rice in mine), and then pay at the register and take it to your table. There, as at Chipotle, one burrito fed two moderate appetites. (La Cumbre's fresh-made carne asado was a little tastier, but hey, in SD, you make do with what you've got.)

And nobody's forcing people to eat huge burritos all in one sitting. Patrons can also specify what they want or don't want in the burrito and in everything else. Chipotle's menu is varied and includes smaller items -- and huge salads. That is to say, if people want to eat vast quantities of foods that make them obese, it's not necessarily the eatery's fault for serving the supersize portions that Americans crave and demand. And maybe the incrased freshness of local veggies will entice more people to order the salads.

(As for the beans and the tortilla flour -- well, who the hell knows where any of that comes from? For home cooking, unless you spend a fortune on them at a health food store or Whole Foods-- and maybe not even then--not a clue! And if the oil is the ever-popular canola -- we do know. Comes from huge agribiz, drenching the fields with Monsanto weed-killer on the acres of -- wha? -- rape stalks.)

July 3, 2011

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