The best of the worst

Last week a colleague tried to convince me that Chipotle, the Mexican fast food restaurant, is a healthy lunch option. And I gave him a strange look. Yes Chipotle is doing a great job of drawing attention to its ‘local farm supporting’ food culture with its food with integrity campaign, but it still isn’t what I would consider a healthy choice. In fact the rise of the so-called fast food nation is something that really concerns me.

The recent scandal over the amount of meat in Taco Bell’s beef tacos has drawn a lot of attention to the fast food industry, raising some important issues about where the ingredients come from and why it’s so cheap. Taco Bell is currently being sued by an Alabama law firm over false advertising for its beef tacos. I’m not quite sure who the originator of the lawsuit is and I have to wonder whether it’s a competitor. Either way, whether or not the tacos contain 36% beef or 88% beef, as claimed by Taco Bell, is only half of the issue (Love the addition of the Flava Flav chicken ad in that article even if his chicken looks heart attack inducing).

CNN’s poll, Does Taco Bell’s beef blending bug you? has some pretty shocking results; 44% of over 17,000 readers answered “Heck no! It still tastes awesome.” That means, there’s a lot of people out there that really don’t care where their food comes from or what’s in it. Even if tasting good is related to the high fat, salt and sugar content. And that’s why the fast food industry is big business. Yum Brands, the company behind Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC, will release its financial statement later this week and the current estimation for its 2010 revenue is over $11 billion. One of the scariest things is the company’s focus on expanding in China and emerging markets. China currently accounts for a bigger proportion of Yum Brands revenue than the US! And at the same time obesity is becoming a big issue in China‘s urban areas, relating directly to its rapid economic growth. China is following hot on the heels of the US in becoming a fast food nation.


Bringing it back to Chipotle, I have to concur that its focus on sustainable farming and animals that have been raised naturally is a refreshing change for a fast food joint. It provides a lot of information on its website about sourcing its meat from farms where the animals are not given antibiotics and are raised naturally with a vegetarian diet. And although it’s still working on improving the quality, I think its open message and support for local and family run farms is great.

But

Hang on a minute. Chipotle’s Mexican Grilled Burrito was voted the worst Mexican food by Men’s Health Magazine as part of its 20 worst foods in America study. Even though its nutritional information is readily available on the website, you still need a maths degree to decode it (or at least some patience and a calculator). My very quick sums gave me 980 calories for a burrito with rice, steak, guacamole, beans and cheese. Not forgetting the 1760 mg of sodium – about 76% of the recommended daily amount of 2300mg. And while it’s true, it could be worse – it could be 36% meat and 64% oats, soy lecithin and secret ingredients – I have to say I agree with the Men’s Health suggestions to remove the rice and tortilla or share it with a friend. 

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