Willie & Chipotle: Sometimes sellin’ out ain’t so bad

In August of 1981, I attended my first concert; Willie Nelson at the Wisconsin State Fair. Willie’s version of Unchained Melody played at my wedding in 2001 and even today, Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground still moves me. Through the years, I have followed Willie’s work with Farm Aid, BioWillie and NORML.

But the news that he was doing a commercial for the Mexican food chain, Chipotle, made my inner snob cringe. Was Willie going to the dark side?

The commercial launched on August 30th. Check it out…


Does Chipotle’s message matter?

Are your eyes dry after watching that commercial? In my opinion, it is a well-directed, poignant advertisement that both haunts and educates.

The message is not new for most eco-friendly folk, but it triggers the question; will we support it coming from a fast-food chain touting 1.3 billion dollars in revenue? One who owes its growth to the McDonald’s empire?

Yes. With that magnitude of customers, companies like Chipotle and their “food with integrity” program can become huge players in educating widespread audiences about sustainable farming practices. When big business evaluates and reduces their carbon footprint, they support more than two tomato vendors at the local farmer’s market. We’re talking collaboration with hundreds of farming families and green business consultants, thousands of gallons of pesticides, and in Chipotle’s case, involving 26,000 employees in the promotion of fresh food.

Though I don’t appreciate this recent article that scoffs at individual green efforts, I do acknowledge the point that we need large scale participation to achieve more immediate changes to our deteriorating environment. Food chains like Chipotle can stimulate such changes.

The millions in annual savings on fuel and maintenance costs might motivate businesses to move to sustainable practices. They may simply, and wisely, be taking advantage of a new and growing customer base. Whether driven by “the cause” or the almighty dollar, their actions have the potential to make a significant, positive impact.

Chipotle ventures into territory that I hope other food chains will tread. Quickly.  My only gripe is their decision to run the ad in movie theaters rather than on TV. They exclude a wider audience who would benefit greatly from “food with integrity” education.

Does this commercial make Willie Nelson a sell out?

As for Willie selling out? Nah. Selling out suggests a compromise of beliefs and integrity in exchange for money. This ad was true to his advocacy work for farmers, not a betrayal of a cause he believes in. I see only good coming from his taking this message to a mainstream audience. The more the merrier.

My musical tastes have strayed far and wide, but Willie remains steadfast in my collection. And when I’m on the road again, hunger gnawin’ at my core, you can bet yer sweet adobo that my eyes will scan the horizon for the nearest Chipotle.

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About Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson is a freelance writer with nearly 20 years of experience in community health education, non-profit program management and mental health counseling. Amy works on projects that promote greener, healthier living through pragmatic approaches. She is an avid fan of reality therapy, small town farmers markets and dishing out home cooking with unsolicited advice. You can also follow Amy’s adventures in realistic wellness.

  • Gavin Hudson

    I wouldn’t say it’s selling out at all, although I might be biased. I agree with this article that companies do right as well as wrong, and should be encouraged when they do right. Following this thinking, I took a job at a mega company recently because they’re also involved in renewable energy and cool cleantech, even though they also do some things I don’t agree with. The same goes for Chipotle. Several years ago, I actually invested in chipotle stock because I appreciated the company’s sustainability initiatives. 

    • http://www.EcoSnobberySucks.com Jeffrey Davis

      Very cool perspective man. That’s where I am too. You can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. That’s why we don’t focus on only “small” steps or “big” steps here at Eco-Snobbery Sucks….it’s EVER step that matters.

      What company did u land a new gig at?