Chipotle, Stewardship and the Theology of What We Eat

What Christians can learn from Chipotle's haunting short film.

You have to hand it to Chipotle. The idea that “high quality, affordable product” plus “ethical business practice” equals “immense success” shouldn’t be revolutionary, but it is, and Chipotle’s riding high on that little equation. You don’t have to care about our nation’s farmers to appreciate what Chipotle does, but it helps. That’s part of what made their new ad so powerful.

It would surprise none of my friends to learn that Chipotle’s new short film moved me to tears. Their stunningly executed piece is advertising at its best, all without hardly mentioning “Chipotle” at all. As Fiona Apple croons the refrain from Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, “Want to change the world? There’s nothing to it.” we see a traumatized cow trapped in a milking/torture chamber. When Apple repeats the refrain, the protagonist scarecrow is chopping his home-grown ingredients in a missional effort to combat the evil agri-food business. And, just like that, Chipotle pulls off the neat trick of being an immensely popular eating establishment without actually being part of The Establishment.

It’s hard not to feel like there’s something a little personal in the metaphor, as McDonald’s was a majority shareholder in Chipotle until 2006, when the double arches divested.

The hauntingly beautiful infomercial animates our worst fears; the food industry has gone mad, trapping us, along with bovine #53281, in a broken system. But the admittedly less than holistic food industry is only one of many capitalist enterprises which have degraded and damaged the earth. We could also include mining, manufacturing, transportation, communication, entertainment, and housing. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to live in this world without contributing to the decline of the planet–which is part of why many folks simply ignore the crisis and go on with their lives.

Short of selling our vehicles, refusing to fly, committing to only buy food from local organic farmers, forgoing diamonds, and wearing clothing hand-sewn by college educated Americans who all have health insurance and 401Ks, what’s a Christian to do?

Our action point should not and cannot be to simply eat at Chipotle as we smugly vilify the Crow Foods of the world or the farmers who grow for them. After all, farming and food production are market driven industries and we are the market, demanding strawberries and preternaturally plump chicken breasts 365 days a year. If we push ourselves beyond the initial reactions of guilt (if you stopped at MacDonald’s on the way home), self-righteousness (if you stopped at Chipotle’s), or anger (if you happen to be a much maligned farmer) and allow the grim message to get under our skin, there’s a more faith-filled response it might inspire.

Could we courageously accept this as a challenge to take God’s first command to humanity seriously and re-envision our role as caretakers of the earth? Though the first official commandment is “You must have no others gods but me,” the Lord’s first directives to man and woman are found in Genesis 1:28:

"God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." (KJV)

Believers have obviously embraced the being fruitful and multiplying component of this command. A small percentage of us–I would argue mostly farmers, gardeners, and foresters–do most of the replenishing work. It’s in the area of subduing and dominating where humanity has fallen short.

Mankind tends to understand subdue and dominion in militaristic terms and thus relate to the earth as unreflective proprietors empowered to exploit. Slaughtering buffalos to the brink of extinction and strip mining illustrate this unfortunate penchant. But if we explore these concepts within the entire biblical narrative, a very different paradigm emerges.

For instance, God instructs Moses, “Give the land a sabbath rest on the seventh year. Do not plant your crops or prune your vineyards during that entire year.” And several verses later, as if to remind us whose earth it is, “The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me.”

Writer Christopher Brown further explains:

The dominion that God desires is one that protects the defenseless and gives justice to the oppressed. Applying this to the command for humanity to exercise dominion over creation, we can see that while we rule over creation, we’re [also] called to protect it.

We can reframe our understanding of what it means to be stewards of our holy earth and allow this to inspire us to action.


What if more congregations across the country not only agreed with this mandate but decided to purposefully engage with it? Tri Robinson, founding pastor at the Boise, Idaho Vineyard has done just that. As part of their commitment to caring for the earth, the church grows organic vegetables (more than 30,000 pounds annually which goes to their weekly food pantry), reads the Scripture with “green glasses,” and recently started a new school to teach folks about “upriver” issues such as how the abuse and misuse of the earth contributes to worldwide poverty and inequality. According to Robinson, “Christians should be at the front line of environmental issues.”

We don’t all have the option of being part of such a holistic church, but we can reframe our understanding of what it means to be stewards of our holy earth and allow this to inspire us to action. Francis Schaeffer understood the unmistakeable link between stewardship and faith. In his book Pollution and the Death of Man, Schaeffer writes:

The blood of the Lamb will redeem man and nature together ... But Christians who believe the Bible are not simply called to say that “one day” there will be healing, but that by God’s grace, upon the basis of the work of Christ,” substantial healing can be a reality here and now.

That substantial healing will come to pass when the body of Christ willingly and purposefully embraces God’s sacred call.

15 Comments

Dorothy Greco

68

Dorothy Greco commented…

Thanks for providing this link Jeremiah. Great work. I esp. like the 2nd to last line. Blessings.

Jeremiah Gibbs

3

Jeremiah Gibbs replied to Dorothy Greco's comment

Thanks Dorothy. I appreciate the feedback.

"By the slow and laborious process of creating that which is life-giving and just, (the scarecrow) witnesses the good life himself."

Kirk Hodgson

2

Kirk Hodgson commented…

As a Christian with an Environmental studies Degree attending a Vineyard church this was a good read :)

But for real, our diet has massive ramifications on the land (and thus people). For this reason alone I chose to be vegetarian. Starts with me right.

Dorothy Greco

68

Dorothy Greco replied to Kirk Hodgson's comment

I admire that kind of thinking and action. (If I was not gluten and dairy free, I would be vegetarian too. Just can't wrap my head around how I would feed myself.)

Neil

27

Neil commented…

Great article this is going to be difficult but peak oil will mean we will have to re-localise our food system. I was very encouraged by the vineyard church taking this so seriously although its hard to find much on their website about it. see http://www.theoillamp.co.uk/?p=1919 and http://valeriecomer.com/blogging

Dorothy Greco

68

Dorothy Greco replied to Neil's comment

Neil, go to the link which as listed for the school to find more. (I agree, they could have more on there. That was what led me to call and chat with Tri.) Thanks for reading.

Jeff Bjorck

2

Jeff Bjorck commented…

Excellent article, Dorothy. Overall, the Church seems disconnected from the call for us to be good stewards of the earth. I do find it interesting that, before the fall, God told Adam and Eve that plants were to be their food and food for the animals. Obviously, after the Fall, God was the first to kill an animal, and I am not arguing against doing so on Biblical grounds. However, it seems that a "back to the Garden" approach clearly points to treating animals and our world as kindly as possible. Your article drives that home. As one suggestion, I would argue that it is indeed "Christ-like" to at least argue for the humane treatment of the animals that are eaten, from birth to slaughter. We tend to forget that animals feel pain and physical discomfort too.(Proverbs 12:10)

Thanks again!

P.S. The New Yorker just had a good piece on this as well.
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/currency/2013/09/chipotle-mexican-...

Dorothy Greco

68

Dorothy Greco replied to Jeff Bjorck's comment

Thank you for reading, for your thoughtful comments, and for the new Yorker link. (It's a great read.) And I agree that humanely treating animals is indeed Christ-like.

Please log in or register to comment

Log In