How Animals Fit into Chipotle's Story

In Chipotle's story, all the animals are safe and happy. "We love piglets! How could we be a bad company?" 

In Chipotle's story, all the animals are safe and happy. "We love piglets! How could we be a bad company?" 

One of the most bizarre things about Chipotle's marketing is the presence of animals everywhere. Now, granted, the animals are always happy animals in well-kept pastures under bright sunlight. (Indeed, they're often baby animals to emphasize the cuteness factor.) But you would think that a company that kills tens of millions of animals every year would not want to highlight their presence in the business. 

After all, it's a cliche that "If only people recognized that there was an animal behind every peace of meat. Then everyone would be vegetarian!" Chipotle's explosive 1000% growth in the past five years proves that this cliche is false. Chipotle has made animals present -- indeed, painfully present -- and yet their customers continue their animal-eating ways, completely unabashed. 

The reason has to do with what Professor Tim Pachirat calls the Politics of Sight. Pachirat, who spent many months working in a slaughterhouse as field work for his dissertation at Yale, shows that it's not enough to see animals, or even violence against animals. The animals and violence have to be politically and morally and emotionally interpreted, in a particular way, to mobilize popular outrage and change.

The modern disjuncture between food and animals, in Pachirat's view, is an opportunity for activists. The public has been so removed from the meat-animal relationship that it's jarring when that connection is pointed out. But if that jarring effect is softened by a happy story with happy images, all our momentum is lost. That is precisely what Chipotle is doing: diverting the potential of a movement for animal liberation into meek and dispassionate consumerism

What we have to do, then, to include animals in our stories, but on their own terms -- not as objects to be used (humanely or otherwise) but as living, breathing individuals whose personalities matter independent of any human being's. We need to stop thinking just about how animals fit into our story, but recognize that they have stories, too. And, above all, push to ensure that those stories -- with all their complexity and fullness and, yes, desperation -- are heard.