Changing fast food one burrito at a time

McMove aside, Taco Bell

Nigel Sumerlin

“Don’t eat the meat,” Brandon warned me.

My cousin, Brandon Sumerlin, had just started working at Burger King, and discovered (to his dismay) that what had seemed like crispy chicken was in fact a sludge of pulverized meat delivered in bags and squeezed onto a grill like pancake batter.

This shocking revelation was my first exposure to the truth behind the flashy menus and deceptive advertisements that is the fast food industry. Abhorrent treatment of animals, low health standards and appalling customer service have become characteristic of the fast food restaurants as they have cut corners to maximize profits.

McDonalds pioneered the fast food industry in the 1950s, beginning a movement that transformed fast food from small independent food stands to the streamlined profit-harvesting corporations we see today.

Within decades, a plethora of fast food chains had followed in McDonald’s footsteps, utilizing simple menus, assembly line methods for food production, cheap ingredients and low quality service to churn massive profits.

To wring out those high profits, fast food restaurants source their meats from factory farms who treat animals in gut-wrenching fashion. From cramped living quarters to growth hormones and antibiotics, the inhumane treatment of these animals is harmful both to the animals and to the humans who consume them.

Recently a new class of restaurant, the “fast-casual” has entered the scene.  Noodles and Company, Panera Bread, and Chipotle are among the restaurants that are leading the campaign to change how people view fast-food by using high-quality ingredients and cooking techniques to make good food available to people at reasonable prices.

An example of this is Chipotle’s “Food With Integrity” program, which the Chipotle website defines as their “commitment to finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the environment and the farmers.” This means they will use meat only from animals “raised in a humane way, fed a vegetarian diet, never given hormones and allowed to display their natural tendencies.” To ensure this, Chipotle acquires its meat exclusively from naturally raised and free-range chickens, cows, and pigs.

Chipotle also reduces its environmental impact by buying organic produce from pesticide-free farms. Chipotle employees regularly visit these farms to observe growing practices and build relationships with local farmers.

Purchasing locally grown food is a priority for Chipotle, with “local” defined as “within a 350-mile radius” from the restaurant. By buying locally, Chipotle can be confident that their food is fresh and that they are creating a higher demand for family-farmed produce and meat. In this way Chipotle restaurants benefit their communities by returning money to local markets.

The recent proliferation of fast-casual means that you can choose to eat intelligently with an awareness of where your food comes from and of the impact your burgers and burritos have on the animals used, the environment and your community.

With the uprise of responsible fast-casual restaurants that work to prepare their food with integrity, you can eat the meat.

Nigel is a freshman pursuing a double major in history and psychology.