In another move towards sustainable practices in the restaurant industry, Chipotle Mexican Grill, the fast-casual chain famous for oversized burritos made with fresh ingredients, recently started buying sustainably-raised pork from Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Chipotle’s Charlottesville, VA stores. Chipotle projects that Polyface will be able to supply 100% of the pork needed for the Charlottesville market. Polyface, profiled in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is considered the benchmark standard of sustainable animal agriculture agriculture and gives true credibility to Chipotle’s corporate mission to leave a lighter footprint.
The partnership comes on the heels of almost a year and a half of complex negotiations involving equipment needs, recipes, and transportation issues. Salatin found that his fine-dining clients, snapped up the choice cuts of pork he had to offer, but the market was not as strong for tougher cuts, such as shoulders and legs. These tough cuts are perfect for the braising method used in carnitas pork for burritos.
Although the partnership was a lengthy process, Chipotle is no stranger to looking for vendors using more sustainable methods. They’ve been buying pork from since 2000, creating a demand which allowed Niman to expand from 75 small farms to 500. According to their website, all meat served in their restaurants are antibiotic and hormone-free and are all vegetarian-fed. 25% of their beans are grown organically, and their sour cream is rBGH-free. Trying to rethink their sourcing towards sustainability, (and effectively, reimage how large-scale chains do business) aligns Chipotle’s mission with that of Polyface, who have been rejecting conventional notions of industrial agriculture since 1961.
Despite the higher cost (and effort) behind integrating Polyface pork, Chipotle refused to pass their costs on to the consumer–their carnitas burrito remains $5.75 in Charlottesville. And for those who want to lighten their food footprint even more (but can’t resist Chipotle’s burritos), Chipotle has plenty of vegetarian and vegan options on their menu.