Acton Institute Powerblog

Misplacing Dystopia in Chipotle’s ‘The Scarecrow’

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Popular Mexican food chain Chipotle has made waves with its new animated short, in which a modest scarecrow flees the hustle and bustle of an over-industrialized dystopia in search of a slower, greener, earthier existence.

“Dreaming of something better,” Chipotle explains, “a lone scarecrow sets out to provide an alternative to the unsustainable processed food from the factory.”

The whole thing is quite well done, with stunning visuals and effective storyboarding, all propelled by a soundtrack of Fiona Apple, meandering about at her spooky-crooning best. Check, check, check.

Unfortunately, the caricatured villain is most typically a caricature, and just so happens to be feeding hungry mouths across the globe, not to mention employing swaths of scarecrows in the process. One man’s dystopia is another man’s employer, who’s yet another man’s cheap-yet-juicy cheeseburger supplier (that’d be me).

Over at The Federalist, David Harsanyi helps dissect some of the fantasy:

The Chipotle Scarecrow slogs to his miserable job at a smoke-spewing factory where nothing grows but caged chickens and cows. For some strange reason, in this imaginary world, government subsidized Big Agriculture chooses to leave massive swaths of land fallow or desolate, when, in fact, where food actually comes from, farm productivity has increased dramatically over the past decades and the resources required to keep production high has declined. Not exactly the stuff of dystopia…

…The local farm movement might make urban Millennials (who are, strangely enough, according to the company, “skeptical of brands that perpetuate themselves”) feel better about their fast food, but it is a bad idea environmentally and a terrible idea for those struggling to pay for food. Many Americans can drop ten bucks on a burrito lunch, many others can’t. Maybe the latter group makes a calculation to buy a “dollar meal” rather than a ten-dollar meal for their family, despite the level of free ranging their meat may have enjoyed during its lifetime. Maybe, and this may seem radical to some readers, others prefer the taste of salty fast food. But what agribusiness and food farming entails is more complicated than critics (and really, most of the leading advocates in this area will never be satisfied) would have us believe.

What we do know is that we’re producing lots of moderately priced nutrition for lots of people. That should be a lot more morally concerning to us than a chicken’s comfort level.

I have no tolerance for the bloated Big-Ag bankrolling behind the majority of today’s food production, and I’m sincerely grateful for much that the slow-and-local food movement has brought to public attention, kale chips aside.


But if the entire food world was to all of a sudden run according to the ideals that Chipotle suggests, sucking up land and emptying stomachs like those hungry agrarian paradises of yore, dystopia would just be getting warmed up.

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.


  • Beth Donabedian Beatrice

    Mr. Sunde, you are on the wrong side of this one. I am frustrated to hear people who call themselves conservatives or libertarians rushing to the defense of the industrial agriculture and the industrial food processing complex. If you consider the amount of money that taxpayers pay in subsidies to these huge corporations, you would never call this food “moderately priced”. If you really knew anything about nutrition, you wouldn’t call most of it “nourishment”, either.

    I’ll tell you EXACTLY how we could feed the world WITHOUT these corrupt, quasi-government (crony) corporations. First of all, let’s level the playing field. Get the government out of agriculture and food processing completely, first. Take away all subsidies. Next: Do you know what a farmer has to go through in order to say that he has an organic farm? Do you know all of the ridiculous amounts of red tape, fees, etc. that the farmer has to supply to get this certification? Do you know that those who produce adulterated foods with hidden ingredients are often allowed to do this by law, without labeling that explains what is actually in their products? Do you know how many government agencies are used regularly to conduct raids on small family farms all over this country? What are the taxpayers paying for this thuggery which is carried out in the name of the law, but really just done in order to eliminate competition for Big Ag and the Food processors? Do you know that zoning ordinances often prevent farmers from producing value-added products with their produce and animal products?

    I urge you (and all liberty loving, health-loving, pro-life people) to go to the Weston A. Price Foundation website and learn the basic principles of health that they are trying to share with people. They exist to educate. Go to the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund website, and read about the farmers all over this country, who are being attacked and harassed by government agency thugs. They are having to fight in the courts, just to keep their farms and their livelihoods.

    Read Joel Salatin. He is a libertarian, a Christian, an entrepreneur, a life-time farmer and a brilliant businessman. He has shared his vision for agriculture. It is a modern and scientific vision for healthy food production, healthier farmland and successful family farm businesses.

    I’m sure you mean well, Mr. Sunde, but I urge you to go in depth on this one and do much more research. Do not listen to the crony capitalists who are taking us down a very unhealthy, expensive, and even dangerous path. Don’t drink the cool-aid! Both literally, and figuratively!

  • Beth Donabedian Beatrice

    I am sorry to read this point of view here. It is frustrating to hear people who call themselves conservatives or libertarians, parroting the fallacies that are put forth by the industrial agriculture and food-processing complex. We can feed the world without them. How? An amazing thing called the FREE MARKET. Do you have any idea how much taxpayer money is used to subsidize industrial agriculture and food processors? They have become quasi-government entities, actually. Not only are they subsidized by government, but they regularly sic various government agents upon small farmers all over America, claiming to be enforcing laws. They search and seize, arrest and destroy (food!).

    The foods they produce are unhealthy, almost devoid of nutrients, laden with harmful antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, GMO’s, soy (dangerous to humans if it isn’t fermented, or if it’s GMO), full of high-fructose corn sweeteners or artificial sweeteners, food dyes, MSG (an excito-toxin), etc.

    I urge you to go much more in depth with your research. First go the the Weston A. Price Foundation website and read about Dr. Price and his research, and the scientists who carry on research in his footsteps. Read their basic principles of nutrition. Next, go to the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund and read about the plight of good, hard-working farmers all over America. See how they are struggling in the courts to defend and protect themselves. Read books by Joel Salatin, a famous libertarian, Christian, entrepreneur, life-time farmer, and very successful businessman. He has a vision for agriculture that is modern, scientifically based, financially successful and successful in providing nutrient-dense foods to large numbers of people.

    Don’t forget that small farmers have a lot working against them right now. They are often prohibited from producing value-added products because of ridiculous zoning laws. They have to pay thousands of dollars and spend thousands of hours on red-tape if they want organic certification.

    The small farmers absolutely can produce the food that the world needs, if only the playing field is leveled with a FREE MARKET in the which the government doesn’t choose the winners by pouring billions of dollars into the cronies’ pockets.

    • Stagester

      Very well said. Eat local, support a free market in food.