Is the Chipotle E.Coli Story A Lie?
Until recently, I wasn't following the story of the E. coli outbreaks at Chipotle restaurants very closely. It's not that I think food poisoning cases aren't important. Of course they are. But no one was accusing Chipotle of intentionally poisoning customers. As far as I was concerned, there were much more pressing health issues to worry about.
Well, I'm following the story now.
What caught my attention was a headline about a criminal investigation into food poisonings at Chipotle.
This is just unheard of. Criminal investigations simply don't happen when restaurants have incidents like these. It made my antennae tingle. So I dug a little deeper. And after spending a day reading everything I can get my hands on about Chipotle, their business model, their stance on food, and their recent illness woes I have to say:
Something about this whole situation stinks of cow manure, and it isn't Chipotle's food.
Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you
It may surprise some of you to see me siding with a giant like Chipotle. After all, I rail about Big Food and Big Ag daily, and if 1,900 locations and $327 million in profit don't qualify as Big I don't know what does.
My problem with the Big Guys, however, isn't their size. It's the ends they'll go to for profit. It's their practices and their mindset. It's the fact that they'll poison us with glyphosate without a second thought, as long as it plumps up their bottom line. It's that they'll pump our meat full of hormones and drugs to make a buck even if it makes us sick. It's that they buy and sell our Congresspeople — who should be looking out for our interests — like baseball trading cards.
It's not because they're big. It's because they're dirty.
Chipotle seems to be a different breed…and now it looks like they just might be paying for it. Let me be blunt: I have a sneaking suspicion that Chipotle has been intentionally sabotaged. I'm not the first person to say this. Since I started following this story, I've seen the idea tossed around in a lot of places from forums to Facebook. The idea is gaining traction.
The theory is this: back in April of 2015, Chipotle announced that they were getting rid of GMO foods in all their restaurants, and they put their money where their mouth is. They dropped GMOs from every food on the menu. (Not counting fountain sodas, of course, which aren't food.) They were very vocal about their opposition to GMOs, and very visibly advertised themselves as GMO-free.
In August, there was a Salmonella outbreak in Minnesota. It was traced to Chipotle. In October, there were suddenly scores of people in nine different states claiming they got E. coli from eating at Chipotle. Then in December it happened again in Illinois. But there's something that makes all these "outbreaks" really fishy: Chipotle doesn't get its food from any single supplier. It uses lots of small suppliers — different suppliers for different areas. It's all about local food.
The chain has been in business for over 20 years without any problems. It's awfully convenient, the logic goes, that all this should happen just a few months after they so loudly denounced GMO foods. When you consider that another food giant, Costco, suddenly had an outbreak of food poisoning after they refused to sell a GMO food (GMO salmon), it becomes even more suspicious. Chipotle, the speculation is, may have been purposely sabotaged because of their anti-GMO stance.
I think the logic here is sound. It is awfully convenient. However, I also think there's more to it than GMOs.
"Food poisoning" scare tactics are a propaganda tool
Chipotle has stepped on some pretty big toes over the years, and GMOs are just the tip of the iceberg.
The company isn't just anti-GMO, they're anti-factory farm. They actually have a policy regarding the living conditions the animals whose meat they buy. They're committed to selling grass-fed beef, and when U.S. farms can't meet the demand they'll import grass-fed beef instead of buying it from U.S. factory farms. This has made customers happy but antagonized Big Ag.
Their philosophy has been to get their food from local sources wherever possible, and to work with multiple small farms rather than bigger industrial farms. This too has rubbed Big Ag the wrong way.
They even created a TV show satirizing factory farming. Farmers and farmers' groups were up in arms.
Removing GMOs from the menu was just the straw that broke the camel's back. And now the food poisoning publicity is being used to make sure no other upstart companies try to sell real, local food that's not factory-farmed or genetically modified. It's being used to brainwash the masses with a chilling message: that sourcing food locally can make you sick.
That scares me.
Nearly every news story I've read has cited locally - sourced food as being unsafe. As compared to what, I'm not sure — food imported from Mexico or Panama? Food picked before it's ripe, sprayed with chemicals, and trucked across the country? The stories don't answer this question — only claim that locally-grown, smaller-farm food is somehow more likely to make you sick than other food.
Of course that's just not true. I know that. You know that. But if the media says it often enough, soon people will begin to believe it.
This scares me even more.
"Traditional cooking methods" also get the finger pointed at them. If our food is cooked by real cooks rather than pre-programmed machines with automatic timers and such, the news says, we're more likely to get food poisoning. Multiple stories actually claim that "traditional cooking methods, as opposed to automation," are just plain unsafe. It's pure luck, they say, that Chipotle operated for 20+ years selling real food cooked by real people and no one got sick till now.
I'm not kidding.
The "real food" movement has been gaining momentum for a long time. It's big enough now that it's beginning to scare the Big Guys — after all, every factory-farmed steak or flavorless piece of produce, every hormone-laden gallon of milk we refuse to buy means that somebody loses money. What better solution than to take out Chipotle, the corporate poster child for the Real Food movement? And if people can be convinced that real food is bad for them, all the better.
We don't have to let this happen. Don't buy the lie — local food isn't unsafe, and real cooking by real people isn't unsafe either. Insist on real food. Buy local whenever you can, buy seasonal whenever you can, and say no to GMOs.
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