Guest post by Kelly Barrett
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I have previously blogged about how agribusiness doesn’t necessarily have to have a negative connotation. I looked at the practices of my school’s dining service, Bon Appetit, and how they are making strides to be more local, healthy, ethical, and socially conscious.

Screen capture from website

So what about fast food? Does fast food have to mean non-local, unhealthy, unethical, and not socially conscious? We are beginning to see some signs that maybe it doesn’t.

Chipotle was one of the first fast food restaurants to offer fresh vegetables and ethically raised animal meat. I met Joel Salatin at the Washington, DC Green Festival last October. I remember him talking about Chipotle and how much he respects what they are doing as a business. Chipotle is one such fast food chain that is making it possible for slow food to be fast and convenient for consumers.

Joel Salatin and Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle, were interviewed by ABC last year. Salatin spoke about the pigs he raises, whose meat he supplies to nearby Chipotle restaurants. He talked about the pigs in their natural environment, free to roam in the mud of the forest:

“This fully respects and honors the “pigness” of the pig. In our culture today, our Western, reductionist, Greco-roman, linear, fragmented, disconnected, systematized, all parts-oriented culture, we don’t ask how to make a pig happy. We ask, how do we grow them faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper? And that’s not a noble goal.”

I think that is key here: fast food restaurants that have a noble goal in mind–to provide delicious, ethically produced food for the customers, even if it is a tad more expensive.

Steve Ells reiterated this sentiment, saying,

“Just because we serve food quickly and conveniently, doesn’t mean we have to be a typical fast food experience.”

And now, places like Burgerville are catching on. Burgerville even goes a step beyond and offers fresh, seasonal produce, so their menu isn’t always the same. The food you eat therefore changes with the season, which is how it should be! Right now, Burgerville has portabello mushrooms in their menu, which are grown right in the Cascade Mountains. Therefore, Burgerville can really only exist in that area in Washington and Oregon. Or could it? Perhaps if the Burgerville concept catches on, they can develop in other areas of the country, but it wouldn’t be easy because they would have to coordinate their menu around what is in season and available in all those different places. This could get complicated very quickly if they were to actually do this right.

But, this is a good start. We have a few restaurants on board with getting green. But how can we pave the way from here? Well, we can start by avoiding restaurants like McDonalds and Burger King and the hundreds of other fast food chains that don’t offer local, ethical, slow food and try to convince others to boycott with us. We can also support those restaurants that are doing the right thing, like Chipotle or Burgerville (if you live in that area), and try to help promote them and their sustainable, healthy practices.

But how can this movement begin to grow? There are already so many established, rich, powerful corporations out there that are unwilling to take on sustainable practices. Do we try to fix what is broken, or simply start from scratch? Do we hope those traditional fast food chains will lose their followings and go out of business when they are not able to keep up with the green-demand, or do we hope they clean up their acts?

Perhaps it will be a combination of the two. I would love to see all the “McDonalds” of the world re-work their supply chains, buying all naturally raised beef, free range chickens, and local vegetables. But the fact is, they aren’t going to do that unless they are willing to lose all the customers who only go because it is inexpensive. After all, we know that real food (that is, food that is antibiotic-free, free-range, without pesticides, without growth hormones, local, etc) is by-and-large more expensive than the “fake” stuff.

This also begs the question: How can we make sure that the restaurants that do jump on board and start offering naturally raised meats and local produce actually stick to their green business model? It is so easy for companies to get caught up in their greed and then resort to all the old ways of getting cheaper food faster in order to compete with other restaurants. We have to hold these companies accountable and we have to keep asking questions and investigating. And we have to show them that healthy and sustainable food is more desirable than cheap and fast food, so they can keep on delivering it.

By Kelly Barrett

Kelly is a senior at American University in Washington, DC, where she studies Public Communication and Marketing. As part of an independent study on sustainable food production she created her blog – A Local Foodie’s Fight.

Kelly has always been interested in health and health issues and loved to cook and eat. Going from being a meat-loving teenager, Kelly stopped eating meat, then became a vegan, a vegetarian again and then eventually a pescetarian, which she still is today. The main reason for these changes in eating habits where health oriented and they have taught Kelly about the power that food really has. As she states herself “The general rule that I have found is that when I eat with the right balance of pleasure and mindfulness, I naturally just fall into a healthy groove in all areas—exercise, sleep, relationships, etc.”

Around the time she was a sophomore in college, she started to consider the impact of food and food consumption on the environment. A trip to Australia and New-Zealand not long there-after made “everything sort of click into place… global warming, glaciers, Al Gore, those drowning polar bears… everything just felt really true and real” to her.

In the fall of her senior year, she then took a course called “Practical Environmentalism”. The topic that she was most interested in was agriculture. This was the start of her independent study where the focus lies on questions like “what exactly is in this food?” or “what did this salmon have to experience before it made it into my sushi?”.

Kelly is also currently an intern at Food & Water Watch and she writes the health column of her school’s newspaper, The Eagle.

We would like to encourage everyone to check out Kelly’s blog, as it is filled with interesting articles about food and related health issues. We are definitely very proud to welcome her on our blog!