(Sources: http://www.chipotlefan.com/index.php?id=nutrition_calculator; http://calorielab.com/restaurants/mcdonalds/big-mac/1/7.)
All things considered, this is a surprising outcome. Granted, it may very well be the case that, could we factor in the preservatives, glutens, gums, and other unhealthy additives, these results would be tempered. Still, given our national health situation—an increasing prevalence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease—neither the Big Mac nor the Chipotle burrito deserves anything close to a nutritional gold star. In fact, for consumers willing to digest the lesser of evils, it appears as if the Big Mac—especially when it comes to sodium and cholesterol—edges out the pork burrito.
What makes this comparison noteworthy is that it grates against Chipotle's carefully cultivated image. Chipotle is a darling, a beacon of hope, a responsible renegade in the morally defunct world of fast food. From its Niman Ranch-raised pork to its "Food with Integrity" campaign to the appearance of its CEO on Oprah (alongside Michael Pollan), Chipotle—which used to be owned by McDonalds—has successfully branded itself as a cool oasis of sustainability in the expanding desert of industrialized food. It's where slow foodies go when it's time to eat fast.
How an organization known for promoting responsible food choices can get away with serving a signature meal that exceeds our daily sodium allowance—while the avatar of industrial food actually offers a counterpart that's not quite as bad for you—is a situation that makes me wonder: could the rhetoric of food sustainability be distracting us a darker reality? Put differently, does Chipotle's admirable decisions to support small farms when feasible, source all its pork locally from welfare-approved operations, and buy half of its beef hormone-free exonerate their barbell of a burrito from attacking our bodies with obscene levels of cholesterol, saturated fat, and salt?
I shouldn't ask this question of Chipotle alone. Take the famous IN-N-OUT Burger. The organization does an impressive of job of tracking its beef from farm to fork, even going to far as to inspect, butcher, and grind its own product. No outsourcing necessary. This rare example of vertical integration has earned the burger chain well-deserved praise. But stack a standard IN-N-OUT burger against a standard McDonald's burger (both with onions, ketchup, and mustard) and the IN-N-OUT loses on every recorded nutritional point. Calories: 310 to 260. Total fat: 10 grams to 9 grams. Sodium: 730 milligrams to 530 milligrams. Cholesterol: 35 milligrams to 30 milligrams. Carbs: 41 grams to 33 grams. And so on. (All figures are from calorielab.com.)
The culinary domain where I really see the rhetoric of sustainability obscuring heroic amounts of fat, cholesterol, and salt is gourmet dining. One can hardly enter an upscale restaurant these days without being lectured about the locally sourced, sustainably raised, and eco-friendly items on the menu.