The Eat with Care blog

Writing about humane farming issues by Caroline Abels, founder of Humaneitarian. Your comments and feedback welcome. (All replies are screened and posted, if thoughtful and respectful.)

Chipotle’s “Farmed and Dangerous”

February 18, 2014

It’s sassy, bold, funny, and fresh. Apparently the first “original series” produced by a responsible food company, it sets a high bar. And it’s tough as nails on industrial agriculture:

As you can see, “Farmed and Dangerous” — produced by Chipotle Mexican Grill — looks and feels like a TV show. Of course, the series isn’t airing on TV; the four episodes are being released over the next four weeks on Hulu and the Chipotle website. But the professional look of the show (and its satirical au courant humor) means its message about Big Ag could reach a wide audience. Not a surprise coming from Chipotle, which sources food more responsibly than any other American fast food chain, and which last year released an anti-factory farming video that was an online hit.

The lead character in “Farmed and Dangerous,” Buck Marshall, is definitely unsavory. He runs I.F.I.B., the Industrial Food Image Bureau, where he’s in charge of boosting the public image of food companies. He’s smarmy, snarky, and sneaky, and one of his clients is “Animoil,” a dairy company that’s just invented a petroleum-laden “petropill” for cows to eat in place of real food. When an undercover video taken at Animoil goes viral, showing a cow exploding after eating a petropill, Buck jumps into action. A host of characters — including Buck’s conniving daughter and a handsome food activist — help unravel the plot.

Along the way, Buck (played to greasy perfection by Ray Wise) exhibits twisted logic and an eagerness to dupe the public. “There’s nothing wrong with petroleum – it comes from the earth,” he says, foreshadowing Animoil’s marketing campaign. Referring to people who died after consuming tainted meat, he says, “Those people died from eating, not starving… that’s progress.”  To people like me who work in sustainable agriculture and are familiar with greenwashing, this satirical language sounds so… familiar. Hopefully the series will make more people alert to corporate food-speak.

Chipotle logoThere’s debate online about whether “Farmed and Dangerous” is art, activism, or advertising (Bon Appetit magazine has a good article on this). I think it’s all of the above. Chipotle naturally wants more people to take an interest in its food (some of which is humanely raised and heading  in a more sustainable direction, as outlined here). It wants to create brand loyalty by showing its politics. But by doing so, it also hammers a chink in Big Ag’s armor. Last week I attended a meeting in which a representative of the commodity dairy industry said Chipotle is “denigrating commercial agriculture.” (As if sustainable agriculture is not commercial…) I don’t know if he’d seen the trailer for “Farmed and Dangerous,” but he was clearly piqued. And I can understand, since Chipotle still depends on industrial farms to produce much of the food it serves.

Chipotle — with more than 1,500 restaurants around the country — obviously has money to spend, if it made a show this professional. There’s not a humane farm in all this land that has enough coin to produce an online series like this one, so I guess it’s up to companies like Chipotle. What were you saying about “petropills,” Buck?

Post your review of the first episode of “Farmed and Dangerous” here: