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Chipotle’s Seven Deadly Sins – What You Don’t Know about this Scarecrow May Kill You


Chipotle’s Seven Deadly Sins – What You Don’t Know about this Scarecrow May Kill You

(Note: see a talk on this subject here.

Why protest Chipotle? We often get this question. On the face, Chipotle seems like a “good corporation.” They’re at least starting a conversation about animal welfare, right? And heck, they’re offering us a vegan burrito! But there are seven deadly sins, behind the glitzy marketing, that make Chipotle perhaps the most important target in the animal rights movement.

1. It’s one of the largest and fastest-growing animal killers in the world. It’s a $16 billion company -- the third largest publicly-traded restaurant company in the world -- and has grown by 1000% (yes, one thousand percent) in the past five years. If you’re concerned about animals being killed for food, this is where all the action is. Even just slowing Chipotle's growth by a few percentage points would imply tens of millions fewer animals slaughtered in its engine of violence. 

2. It’s lying to the public.  Its corporate motto is “Food with Integrity,” and it deliberately uses terms such as “natural” and “responsibly raised” that have no regulatory significance. It shows the world happy animals in sunlit fields. Yet even cattle industry publications point out that Chipotle sources from brutal, gruesome factory farms.

The  Chipotle Scarecrow : innocent look but deadly core. 

The Chipotle Scarecrow: innocent look but deadly core. 

3. It’s a leader in pro-meat propaganda.There was American Meat back in Feburary, which was described by the Village Voice as “exemplifying the history of meat production in the U.S., especially its innovations, by arguing that the industry is essential to the sustainability of our civilization.” There's the Cultivate festival, which is Chipotle's attempt to show the world that we can cultivate a better world by killing animals. More recently, they started putting up billboards that simply say "MEAT MEAT MEAT." (They're not afraid to lay it on hard, apparently.) 

4. It tries to buy off activists… and often succeeds. Despite its massive pro-meat propaganda machine, Chipotle has somehow earned supporters within the animal rights movement. It's an invasion of movement snatchers. And we can't let them succeed. Because if they do, they will have bought out our movement's greatest strengths: our integrity and our soul. 

.5. It has the most progressive and animal-friendly customers… and it preys on their ethical instincts. Chipotle's Culinary Manager Nate Appleman, in a moment of accidental honesty to the New York Times: “You put tripe in a bowl and tell them it’s from a humanely raised cow, and they’re going to eat it.”

They forgot to point out the  violence . 

They forgot to point out the violence

6. It makes killing animals more profitable. The average Big Mac costs $3.50 and hardly makes McDonald's a dime. Chipotle, in contrasts, charges almost $8 a burrito -- and makes a huge killing off the premium

7. It’s framing the debate as one of "food choice." But it's not food. It's violence. And it's violence that has to stop. 

We'll discuss these seven factors -- and perhaps just as important, what we can do to stop their dangerous impact --  in our open meeting on February 16

Veg*n Consumerism: Panacea... or Pitfall?


One of the complaints we face, in campaigning against Chipotle, is that we shouldn't target a restaurant that has a vegan consumer option. "After all, they're helping people along, step by step," critics say. "Why not go after McDonald's instead?" But when you unpack this criticism, you see that even the critics -- who perversely favor vegan consumer options above all else -- should be our campaign's biggest supporters! 

First, even if one thinks the vegan option is important, our campaign is perhaps the best way to ensure that the vegan option stays. In the face of public pressure and scrutiny, the company (which markets itself as friendly to vegans) could hardly abandon its vegan burrito now, in a moment when its vegan-friendly credentials are being challenged. Indeed, it's at least as likely that it will seek to add even more vegan options to satisfy the protesters, and further prove to progressives and activists that they are a "good company." Chipotle -- which has invested tens of millions into its image as an ethical company -- and its ilk are precisely the companies most likely to respond to a pressure campaign by adding more options. 

Second, veg*n options are not a promising platform for animal liberation. This is not theoretical. We can look directly at a real world counter-example: India. The country, which probably has more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined, has doubled its meat consumption in the past 10 years.  Young vegetarians are now, in NPR's words, the new pariahs -- dismissed as needlessly traditional and excluded from a new symbol of status. 

Vegetarianism, in short, has no natural moral trajectory. When framed as a personal choice, as in many parts of India, it is not a strong platform for growth. Animal liberation, in contrast, is such a platform. Indeed, without a strong liberationist movement to culturally construe and interpret veg*n options, those options serve no function for animals whatsoever. They are not a panacea, but a pitfall. 

Buying our Movement


I'm known for being a skeptical vegan. I'm committed to the lifestyle, for sure, and have been for  years (at times, it was perhaps counterproductive. There was a time when I refused to ride in buses or cars because of the stearic acid in rubber). But I've also publicly declared my misgivings about the vegan consumerist approach -- that is, celebrating, advocating, and enhancing the lifestyle of the vegan consumer -- to animal liberation. There are sound reasons for thinking that vegan consumerism is not a good frame for achieving animal liberation. But sometimes, I go further and describe it as an obstacle to the movement's success and growth. Why might that be the case? I'm reposting a recent discussion below: 

The danger is the same one that William Lloyd Garrison pointed to in advocating for (human) slaves almost 200 years ago. Transforming an urgent social justice movement into a tawdry consumer movement ("Please buy fewer slaves! You'll be such a good person if you do!") re-establishes the "anchoring point" for the movement from "We have to stop all violence" to "let's reduce violence a tiny bit -- but realistically, maybe not at all -- because we can't really expect anything more." 

That normative anchoring point, in turn, will transform the number and type of social messages that are circulated in local communities by activists, i.e. the crucial conversations on the ground between friends, relatives, and co-workers. They're suddenly not talking at all about (much less judging their peers for) the horrors and injustice of animal holocaust -- but instead about adding a vegan option, or a "humane meat" burrito, to the menu at Chipotle.

The movement's demand for change for animals is lost in a spiral of vegan self-indulgence. And individual supporters of the movement are dis-empowered from speaking more confidently against animal abuse. "Don't be one of the militant vegans," people say. "After all, you got your vegan burrito, didn't you? Stop complaining!" 

The lost normative framing -- and the cascading impact this has on effective meme spreading in local social networks -- is the most important casualty of a shift towards vegan consumerism. But there are a number of other detrimental effects:

- Public dialogue is dampened or eliminated because the changes demanded, and controversy generated, suddenly become less compelling.

"Protesters storm into the streets to demand freedom" is an inspirational story and effective meme. "Protesters make polite request for a vegan burrito" is not. 

- To the extent public dialogue is created, it fails to sustain itself because multinational corporations and other institutions manage to convince the public, and even activists, that the problem has been resolved by offering humane alternatives (vegan or otherwise).

Campaigns, just like any good story, require conflict and continuing tension. Indeed conflict and tension are what feed an effective campaign/movement cycle. Efforts to mediate these sorts of conflicts douse the fire of a movement with cold water. Vegan consumerism, by offering faux alternatives and compromise, can have exactly that effect. 

- Even to the extent that alternatives ARE necessary, those that are created under the umbrella of vegan consumerism are susceptible to backsliding.

Whole Foods is perhaps the best example of this. It started out as a vegetarian grocer. Now it's one of the largest animal killers in the world. Alternatives that don't have sufficient structural and institutional separation from current structures and institutions are easily reshaped to serve status quo interests. The most obvious way this is true: the USDA regulates all food, not just meat production, and it has a long history of being controlled by Big Ag interests that have no incentive to implement genuine reforms for animals. The less obvious example is the countless successful vegan businesses that eventually sell themselves to Big Ag interests. (I see Native Foods going down this path, for example -- they recently hired Chipotle's former CFO and are no longer owned by animal advocates. It would not surprise me at all if, within 5 years, they start selling dead animals.)

The upshot: this isn't a consumer movement for vegans. It's a justice movement for animals. And don't let the trappings of vegan consumerism distract you from our central message and goal: not a vegan consumertopia but a world where every animal is safe and happy and free. 

Reflections on Consumer Boycotts

Reflections on Consumer Boycotts

A question that has come up recently is whether one can participate in our campaigns while continuing to shop at Chipotle -- which, after all, is one of the few fast food chains that provides a vegan option. We'll be offering a more detailed analysis later, but here are some preliminary reflections.

Individuals v. Systems: Emergence and Social Change (Video)

Colony wide properties, that no individual ant acts on or understands, matter more (even for understanding and predicting individual ant behavior) than an individual-level account. The intentionality of an ant colony is an  emergent property  

Colony wide properties, that no individual ant acts on or understands, matter more (even for understanding and predicting individual ant behavior) than an individual-level account. The intentionality of an ant colony is an emergent property 

The animal rights community typically focuses on individuals and individual decision-making, as the relevant locus of change. And yet a growing body of evidence shows that complex systems often have properties of their own -- so-called "emergent" properties -- that cannot be properly understood by examining individual components. So, for example, one cannot understand the behavior of a squirrel by using the tools of particle physics!

If human societies have emergent social and systemic properties, then one similarly cannot affect human social behavior by focusing exclusively on individual change. Focusing on systems, rather than individuals, leads to some important questions, such as:

- Should the movement be focused on creating public activists, or private vegans?
- Should the movement be targeting cultural norms, or individual consumer behaviors?
- How likely is it that any particular individual change, whether to a person or a business, is likely to sustain itself, if systemic properties remain static?

Effective Meme Spreading (Video)

Effective Meme Spreading (Video)

In disciplines ranging from economics to history, the cognitive revolution has shown that ideas that spread -- so-called "memes" -- are perhaps the most important forces in social change. But what causes some ideas to spread more effectively than others?

In this talk, activist, lawyer, and trained behavioral scientist Wayne Hsiung discusses three principles of "Effective Meme Spreading." Among other things, you will learn:

- why generating conflict and controversy (such as that created in the Civil Rights Movement, Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring) might be vital to an effective meme; 
- why convincing a person's friends might be more important than convincing the person herself, if you want the idea you're spreading to stick; and
- how strong and supportive communities provide the necessary "fertile ground" for memes to grow, survive, and reproductively flourish. 

Slides for the presentation can be found here.  

About the Speaker

Wayne Hsiung is a lawyer, writer, and organizer for DxE in the Bay Area. Prior to entering the practice of law, Mr. Hsiung was a National Science Graduate Fellow researching behavioral economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Harry N. Wyatt Scholar and Olin Law and Economics Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School. He served on the faculty at Northwestern School of Law, as a Searle Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Law, from 2006-2007, where he focused on behavioral law and economics, free speech, and environmental law.

Mr. Hsiung has worked on social justice campaigns since 1999, including campaigns against capital punishment and on behalf of low-income youth, and has been a grassroots organizer in the animal rights movement since 2001. In his free time, he enjoys playing with his two dogs (Lisa and Natalie) and two cats (Joan and Flash).



Turning Back the Clock - Seeing into the Future

Turning Back the Clock - Seeing into the Future

In 1990, a sample of the most dedicated animal activists -- people willing to fly across the country for a single demonstration -- showed that a mere 18% of activists were vegan. And 54% believed vivisection was the highest priority for the movement (compared to 24% who chose food). It's not surprising that a movement with such a composition failed to stem the tide of violence. As a close friend of mine put it, in discussing his initial hesitancy in joining the animal rights movement: it's hard to take a movement seriously, when it is complaining loudly about one form of violence, while turning a blind eye completely to even-more-horrendous violence supported by the movement's own adherents!

But something has been happening to the movement in the past couple decades. Animal rights activists are finally getting serious about, well, animal rights. And that new-found conviction provides a strong foundation for us to create a movement of real and permanent change. 

Science or Science-y: Part I

"Studies" in the animal rights community have the veneer of scientific respectability. They involve "experiments" and "testing" and give us startlingly exact numbers ("369,000 animals spared; 35% more effective"). But the truth is that these studies are not "Science."


They are "Science-y" -- claims that clothe themselves in the language of scientific rigor without having anything of substance, underneath them.


This post is the first of a multi-part series that explains, in detail, why.  



Marla Rose on Community Building, Infighting, and Feminism

Marla Rose on Community Building, Infighting, and Feminism

Chicago VeganMania, one of the largest vegan events in the country, with thousands of attendees, is coming up in just a few days -- September 21. 

I was lucky enough to catch up with one of the founders and organizers of the event -- author, activist, and feminist agitator Marla Rose -- to discuss the process of organizing such a huge event, dealing with in-fighting, and the interplay between feminism and animal rights.



"How do we give life to an idea?"

"How do we give life to an idea?"

Lauren Gazzola was a lead organizer of one of the most successful campaigns in the history of animal rights - Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty.

And at a talk this weekend, at the Animal Advocacy Museum in Los Angeles, she asked some important questions -- questions that, when asked, may lead us to surprising answers, about the problems of the modern animal rights movement.