By Jill Ettinger
If you lump all fast-food restaurants into the same profit-driven-pushers-of-unhealthy-food category, you may want to delineate a new group: sustainable farming advocates.
Chipotle, the fast-casual Mexican-inspired chain with 1,100 locations across the U.S. that has been serving up healthy food made with organic and local produce since 2008, has just announced the creation of a nonprofit foundation targeted at increasing the amount of sustainable farming practiced by American farmers. They're the only U.S. fast food chain committed to organic and local produce (10 million pounds coming from a 350-mile radius of each location just this year), and they buy more naturally raised meat than any other restaurant -- proving not only that it can be done, but that it can also be affordable and excel in flavor. Chipotle's success may be one of the examples that led McDonald's to agree to begin purchasing cage-free eggs and moved one of its former executives to develop a healthy fast-food chain set to launch in the near future.
The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation will use its funding to support family farms and ranchers developing sustainable practices and youth-targeted education programs focused on food and healthy eating. In a statement from Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle, he says, "By creating the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, we are extending our reach beyond our restaurants and will be supporting organizations and people that are working to improve individual family farms, animals and the environment, and youth and education programs."
Don't think they're serious? Chipotle also released a video this week featuring country music star and president of Farm Aid, Willie Nelson, singing Coldplay's "The Scientist" over an animated video of a farmer who turns his small family farm into an industrial operation that includes drugging livestock and creating pollution before a change of heart reverts him "back to the start" -- the song's refrain, where he embraces sustainability and better food.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger.