Truly scary scarecrows.

Truly scary scarecrows.

I just watched the Chipotle video game ad. It’s a scary and very well done take on factory farming. The video ends with an upbeat moment (No need for a spoiler alert for an advertisement, right?), but the whole thing is incredibly disquieting.

The ad shows chickens plumped up via injections and cows boxed into milking machines in the dark, all behind city building facades painted with murals of rolling farmland and familiar slogans like, “All Natural.”

It’s just a video game ad, part of an elaborate marketing scheme for Chipotle, but, wait a minute… is the reality of our food production system all that different from this video?

This ad is part of a trend, one of many dystopian videos, movies and books examining our food production system. Why are they so popular? Maybe it’s because they reveal a troubling truth. Then again, maybe they allow us to dismiss worrying food trends as remote fiction.

Slow food. Locavores. Farm markets. They’re all trendy at the moment, but the reality is that most of us (myself included) still get the bulk of our food from corporate sources, rather than small farms. I don’t see that changing.

Growing your own food, joining a CSA, shopping at a farm stand — Those are all great options, but they can be time consuming and/or expensive. For most of us, the effects of factory farming aren’t close to hand or immediately apparent. It’s all too easy to ignore them. If you worry about the environment, human health, the survival of small farms, or animal welfare, though, you should probably look very closely at your food purchasing choices. Look past the advertising. Well, except for this Chipotle ad, I guess. Face that one square on and absorb it’s frightening message.

I think about this stuff even without spooky Fiona Apple covers of the Willy Wonka soundtrack running through my head but I haven’t fully changed my eating and shopping habits to reflect my concerns. It’s easier to look away. This video was a much-needed reminder to keep my eyes open and redouble my efforts to buy ethically.

I’m exactly the consumer ad designers have in mind when they stamp “All Natural,” “Farm Fresh” and a portrait of a flower-crowned cow on their package. I’m embarrassed to admit how many half eaten boxes of tasteless but attractively packaged granola I’ve got lined up in my cupboard. I am smack-dab in the center of Chipotle’s target audience. Thank goodness I just ate lunch, otherwise I’d probably be off looking for a burrito right this minute.

The power of advertising is amazing. In this care, an ad convinced me to look more closely at packaging and marketing. Thanks, Chipotle.

Oh, and kind comptrollers at Chipotle, before you send me that “good for one free burrito/thanks for writing about us” certificate, be warned that my readers are probably smarter than I am, and they are reading this with appropriate skepticism thinking, “but wait, isn’t Chipotle a big corporate fast-food restaurant?” No doubt, they’ll watch your ad closely, but they’ll scrutinize your food purchasing choices with even more care.