December 9, 2016

She Called Out Chipotle, and They Answered

 |  By: Dairy Talk

It was one of those crazy hot Kansas days last summer that led Lisa Leach on a social media journey that eventually led the Mexican fast food chain Chipotle to give her a call and change, at least in a small way, how it did business.

Lisa and her husband, Rob, have a 40-cow dairy and farm some 270 acres near Linwood, Kan. Rob is also a full-time firefighter/EMT for the city of Lawrence. As such, he, Lisa and their three school age daughters, Taylor, Erin and Sophie, seem to be always on a frenetic schedule to get everything done.

One such day last summer, after his shift as an EMT, Rob ran the pick-up truck into town for maintenance. He hadn’t had time to eat lunch, so he ran across the street and picked up something quick from the local Chipotle. He also got a soft drink, and left the empty cup in the truck.

The next day, Lisa and her middle daughter, Erin, took the pick-up for other errands. Erin found the cup, wondering who in the Leach family would even eat at Chipotle. It was supposed to be off limits after some of the things the company has said about U.S. livestock farmers. Then she started reading the printing on the cup. It went on about the sunshine of pasture-based dairying, implying cows in confinement are somehow deprived of ever seeing a double rainbow and are raised on antibiotics and hormones.

“When she read that to me, it was like a sucker punch to the gut,” says Lisa. She vowed to respond, if only on social media and if only to a few of her Facebook friends. Here, in part, is what she wrote:

“Chipotle. I’m calling you out. This holier than thou attitude makes my blood boil. I’d love to herd your executives out to my pasture on a day like yesterday. Temps at 101, heat index at 107…. My cows spent the day in the barn with sand-bedded stalls, fans, water soaking them for 1 minute out of every 5, and fresh feed and water available.

“And as far as antibiotics go, all milk is antibiotic free…. Are you implying antibiotics are a bad thing? Shall we ask the hundreds of people sickened at your restaurants if they needed medications to recover? Are they now tainted because they were once treated with antibiotics as you imply a cow would be if she were treated with the proper medication?” #Ihadituptoherewithchipotle.

Within days, the post had gone viral, garnering some 780 Facebook shares. Even more shocking, she got a call from Josh Brau, manager of Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” program. He was calling to see what was so upsetting to her, somehow not realizing the claims the company makes is an affront to the nation’s dairy farmers.

To see firsthand how milk is produced, Brau agreed to a visit to Fair Oaks Farm in Indiana coordinated by Dairy Management, Inc. (DMI).  DMI had been reaching out to Chipotle for years, and was always brushed aside. But Leach’s viral Facebook post caught Chipotle’s attention, which is still struggling to recover from its food-borne illness fiasco.

After the call to Lisa Leach and the visit to Fair Oaks, Chipotle pulled the offensive soft-drink cups from circulation, and toned down some of the rhetoric on its website. It still claims, however, that antibiotics and hormones “are given to a majority of livestock to increase production and combat the effects of over-crowding.”

Nevertheless, Leach thinks her Facebook post made a difference. At the very least, it opened dialogue between Chipotle and dairy farmers where none had existed before. That’s a good thing—and all it took was the courage to share her feelings on Facebook.