Chipotle Mexican Grill"s "the whiny kid on the playground," says a colleague of mine, Laura Mushrush, who is assistant editor of The Packer"s sister publication, Drovers Cattle Network.
She laid into Chipotle in a recent column, saying as she wound up the piece, "Chipotle had the chance to own up to its problems and gain the respect of investors and consumers, but instead chose to whine and throw a pity party like the fat kid who got tagged on the playground."
Denver-based Chipotle has been embarrassed into action by E. coli outbreaks in the Pacific Northwest linked to Chipotle restaurants and then norovirus poisoning Boston College students who had imbibed of the fast-feeder"s burritos and bowls.
Just when we think, "Well, there, that"s that let"s move on," there is a Dec. 21 annoucement by the Centers for Disease Control of E. coli problems linked to Chipotle restaurants in Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota.
It seems people have been lined up to take pot shots at Chiptole, and kudos to Mushrush for getting near the front of the line.
True, Chipotle in effect has begged for comeuppance with its holier-than-thou attitude, attacking genetic modification technology and painting most of production agriculture as heartless monsters willing to do anything for a buck, all in the name of marketing.
Chipotle"s "Farmed and Dangerous" four-episode video series was an adorable stick poked into the eye of Big Ag.
In a minute, I am going to change my tone and sound like a gray-haired uncle, but before that let"s enjoy this.
There"s an article titled "You Can"t Spell ‘Chipotle" Without ‘E. Coli"" at www.chubbychipotle.com. The website is dedicated to exposing Chipotle"s hypocrisy.
On that website you can find pithy observations such as "One Chipotle burrito can have more calories than four-and-a-half McDonald"s cheeseburgers" and there are some ads along that theme, such as one with a picture of a shirtless overweight young man and the line "Eat two ‘all natural" Chipotle burritos a week and you could gain 40 pounds in a year."
Nice shot. The website is one of many created by Rick Berman.
Trekkies, relax, it is not the same Rick Berman who produced the "Star Trek" television programs.
This Berman owns the Washington, D.C., public affairs firm Berman and Co. and created the nonprofit charity Center for Consumer Freedom.
He operates a network of organizations and websites through which he vehemently attacks unions, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, raising the minimum wage, the obesity "epidemic" and limits on trans fat consumption.
He stands firm on not saying who pays him to attack. MSNBC"s Rachel Maddow has tried her best to wring it from him, more than once.
His strategy is to shoot the messenger, he has said in interviews. He opposes a nanny state and has contempt for food cops.
"They create this Chicken Little mentality, that the sky is falling over everything," Berman told Morley Safer on a 2007 "60 Minutes" program. "You know, the latest study says this and the latest study says that and they drive the government to satisfy that artificial public need."
Encouraging people to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables falls under the category of "artificial public need," I surmise.
He did not get back to me with a comment before press time.
However, his websites have railed against creating a national food policy that would "tackle the American public"s love of cheeseburgers and cheesecake" and called the proponents of such an idea "quacktivists."
He suggests the Meatless Monday campaign to remove meat from school lunches once a week could result in a student black market for chicken nuggets, similar to what has happened when school districts have banned candy.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is in the front of the queue for ridicule from Berman"s Consumer Freedom website.
"CSPI claims to be a nutritional watchdog interested in defending public health. But healthy eating means making good choices, and food-nannies like CSPI are determined to make sure the consumer has limited choices," according to the website.
Exercise and shrewd judgment can make room for a chocolate truffle pastry, he argues. True enough, but he is tearing into CSPI just for suggesting foods that are more healthful.
That"s one reason I don"t want to take too much glee in Chipotle"s troubles, desite my chuckling at some pointed comments.
I disagree with Chipotle on its anti-GMO stance, and I find its illogical arguments infuriating. I find the "Food With Integrity" mantra insulting.
However, the chain is clearly dedicated to serving fresh ingredients, including fresh produce, and that has been a key factor in its growth. Even if its growth slows down, there are still a lot of fresh avocados, tomatoes, onions, peppers, lettuce and cilantro being sold to the chain.
As an indication of how important this restaurant chain is to avocado marketers, in July, when Chipotle had its Cultivate Festival in Kansas City, the California Avocado Commission, Irvine, was on hand with representatives from Calavo Growers, Mission Produce and Index Fresh to support this important buyer of avocados.
Furthermore, I believe all of us eating more fresh produce and less red meat (sorry, Drovers Cattle Network) is better for our society, and it is not an artificially created need.
It is as real a need as the stents so many of our loved ones have installed in their arteries because of arteriosclerosis.
What"s more, it is entirely possible that Chipotle"s new dedication to product testing may lead to a more food safety-focused culture at the company.
Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells said on the "Today" show on Dec. 10 that his company"s new food safety proceedures "are so above industry norms that we are going to be the safest place to eat."
Well, you"re not there yet, but go ahead and make that your goal. I mean, really make that your goal. Are you taking this seriously?
Everyone else, do the same.
Chipotle needs to tweak its message, and it needs to embrace a grown-up attitude toward food safety. It isn"t done. This isn"t the death knell for the chain. It just has a lot of work to do.
What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.