Don’t get mad at Chipotle

Instead of throwing millions of dollars into a Super Bowl ad, Chipotle is spending its advertising money differently this month. In what’s probably the burrito chain’s most outrageous attempt to get its customers to think about the food they eat, on February 17 it will debut a new show on Hulu called Farmed and Dangerous.

According to Chipotle, the show will run as a four episode series focusing on a fictional industrial agriculture company that comes up with a dubious plan to feed cows petroleum-based animal pellets. Those pellets save the company money, but they also make the cows explode. Calamity ensues and the audience indirectly learns about pressing issues facing the food industry, such as the reliance on fossil fuels and the overuse of antibiotics on animals.

If you’re engaged in modern, conventional production agriculture, chances are you’re not going to like this Chipotle campaign any better than its previous campaigns. You may become outright enraged. You may be driven to rant about it on social media.

Before you do, consider this: It’s more important that we act and react with authenticity, integrity and transparency instead of being anti-Chipotle. Farmed and Dangerous lead character Buck Marshall is the embodiment of how memorized talking points, condescending explanations and self-serving slogans create an environment where a majority of consumers think that modern, conventional food production is on the wrong path.

Let’s try to understand the context in which Chipotle is taking this approach, why it might resonate with consumers who want to know more about how their food is produced and how you might be able to succeed by authentically sharing your stories and being more transparent.

When engaging consumers about food system issues, the important question is “how does your response make you appear?” to the person you’re trying to reach. Do we need to respond to Chipotle? I don’t think so. Do we need to respond to consumers’ concerns about food production? Absolutely, and in a manner that does not brand us “big bad ag.”

For too long, agriculture has responded to affronts similar to Chipotle’s Farmed and Dangerous by attacking its attackers and falling back on science to justify current practices – an approach that’s ineffective in building trust and support. The science and economics of agriculture and food production may tell us we can do something, but consumers want to know if we should.

The question “should we?” is a very different dynamic than “can we?” and one agriculture needs to learn how to answer. So instead of attacking and getting mad, please consider using this heightened consumer interest in food to actively participate in a more informed conversation about how food is produced.

Consumers have every right to be curious about how their food is produced. Regardless whether or not you like Chipotle’s tactics, as a food system stakeholder, at least it’s trying to engage consumers about food production issues.

Are you?

Read more: 6 tips for constructive conversations