Tag Archives: food

Come with me… for a quick snack… from the world of Chipotle’s imagination!

So this creative little advertising film is making the social media rounds and earning kudos from food activists fighting Big Ag:

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chili plant ablaze

A chili plant ablaze with fruit in our suburban yard

It is a lovely, and lovingly put together film indeed, and the kudos are definitely well earned by the creative team at Moonbot Studios who created it. As many have noted, it is visually beautiful, accompanied by a haunting re-imagination of a classic song (Pure Imagination) from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and full of pathos both for the “food” animals being processed in the factory, and the farmer/factory-worker who is the protagonist and surrogate for us watching what the factory does, and for Chipotle which seems to offer an alternative. That it is an advertisement for a fast-food chain which wants to set itself apart from the rest of the pack, only sneaks up on us late in the film – and some (like my daughter) are put off by the final cut to smartphones showing some video game version, presumably, of this scary factory farm (Scarecrow).

As ads and commercials go, this is surely one of the most creative ones in recent memory, especially since it is offering a critique of Big Ag and the food processing industry that has so much of our global food production in its sights if not its claws right now. Many of us want to break the stranglehold of Monsanto/Cargill/Tyson et al which grows stronger by the day, gobbling up farms, and communities, animals and habitats, and biodiversity (the particular concern here among us Coyot.es). Many of us hunger for better choices of food in the market, especially among the fast food outlets which form the primary source of nutrition for an increasing number of people across the planet. And we can use allies from all corners, including corporations who want to change things.

It is fascinating, therefore, to see Chipotle Mexican Grill, which has grown into a massive restaurant chain (1400 stores), thanks in no small part to McDonalds (yes, that McDonalds, which would seem to be amongst the targets of the above film, was a major investor in Chipotle from 1998-2006), position itself as such a strong alternative to the factory-farmed-and-processed fast food experience. See the Food With Integrity section of Chipotle’s website for all the proclamations they make about how they do things differently (with Integrity!) and are trying to change the way the fast food business works. And more power to them for doing all of these good things, despite some dubious passages (involving immigrant labor) in their own history. In taking this position, Chipotle is also giving us enough assurances via their website and this advert for consumers to be able to hold it accountable if they don’t keep their promises. We need more corporations to do the right thing, and the popularity of this video may help move the conversation forward.

I do wonder about a few things in the film, though.

Isn’t it convenient that the farmer/factory-worker (our protagonist) who is so saddened by the sight of the cow with the ear-tag heading for the factory chute, happens to have his own little patch of land and home where he can grow all the vegetables to put into the tacos he sells back in the city later? Must be nice for him to still have access to land that hasn’t been taken over and devastated by Big Ag. What brought him to that factory job in the first place, if he still has such a productive farm? And what a bummer of a commute between his oasis of a home to the big city surrounded by a post-apocalyptic hellscape! His rediscovery of the bright red chili and the other produce on his farm almost reminded me of Isaac Asimov’s classic short story “Good Taste”. Our food processing industry hasn’t quite reached those science fictional depths yet, but not for lack of trying!

Also, while it is nice to see him cheerfully chop up the chile and lettuce and all the other vegetables to lovingly put together the food that entices customers away from the factory-processed “100% beef-ish” substances – what about the delicious carnitas and barbacoa and chicken which are also major draws on Chipotle’s menu? Were the scenes of his humanely slaughtering his beloved cow (Bessie?), ceremonially slicing off steaks from her flanks, and lovingly grilling her tender flesh, cut out due to concerns the film may not merit a PG rating? I guess some things we don’t really want our children to see, even as we want to be honest about where our food comes from…

Finally, on behalf of my fellow Coyote Jennifer of The Corvid Blog, I have to ask both Chipotle and the Moonbot creative team: What the heck did a crow ever do to you to make you cast it in such a darkly villainous role??!! Crows are cool, and they would love some healthy food choices too, thank you very much!

A robust looking House Crow

“What did a crow ever do to you, Chipotle?” Asks this Indian House Crow.

On food, pollinators and what makes me scared (guest post by Maria Schewenius)

A long year ago and a few thousand miles away, I enjoyed my first lovely home-cooked Swedish meal in my then new friend Maria Schewenius’ flat, barely a week after I had flown there to start my sabbatical. Along with the moose patties and potatoes,

A traditional Swedish meal on Maria's balcony

A traditional Swedish meal on Maria’s balcony

the delicious meal Maria whipped up also included a salad featuring the freshest of tomatoes,


Fresh tomatoes growing on an urban balcony


Basil, fresh as it gets

Basil, fresh as it gets

and other herbs

Herb garden in the balcony

Container garden full of herbs

Herbs in the balcony

Herbs and flowers

grown organically right there on the relatively small balcony of her (4th floor, if I remember correctly) flat!

Maria is a young urban ecologist working with the Stockholm Resilience Center on a number of projects of global import, including the Cities and Biodiversity Outlook (in which I played a small part) and URBES, among other things. As evident from the above photos, she is also an avid gardener, creatively making the most of the little open space and the few long days of summer sunshine available to her in the suburbs of Stockholm. Lovely flowers brighten up the containers which provide both beauty and food to this small scale urban farmer.

Edible blue flowers

Edible blue flowers

Flowerbed in the balcony

Flowers brighten up the balcony

Recently, though, she has had a personal realization of how much her little urban garden depends upon a larger network of species supported by the ecosystem of Stockholm, what we call ecosystem services in the jargon. Earlier today, she posted the following observation/lament on the apparent loss of an ecosystem service crucial to that supply of tomatoes which we enjoyed so heartily last summer.

My gracious hostess

My gracious hostess

On food, pollinators and what makes me scared:

A discovery and sudden realization yesterday made me terrified. My tomato plants, cocktail type according to the package, beef type according to the size the plants have actually grown to, have not only grown remarkably well since March but also been covered in pretty little yellow flowers for weeks. Now the flowers are falling off, and… nothing. Where little round tomatoes in abundance should now be emerging, weighing down the strong branches of the giant little plant, nothing appears.

Although the theoretical knowledge has been with me for years, it is the real experience, seeing with my own eyes, that truly makes me realize how fragile one of the most basic and vital of ecosystem functions is: pollination. Without honeybees, bumblebees and butterflies, which have been few and far between on my little balcony garden, my tiny scale food production system has crashed in the span of one single season. Suddenly I can start to imagine the potential effects of the global honeybee population decline, although it would be impossible to imagine the full effects if the pollinator system crashed – and I’m quite happy that it is.

As I am writing this, I glance at the gladiator of cocktail tomato plants next to me that with leisure nod along with the wind. One of the branches catches my eye: at its very end, well hidden beneath a labyrinth of leaves, three tiny pea-sized green tomatoes are emerging. There is hope.

Floral closeup

An urban floral closeup

“Gardening is my graffiti”

…says South Central LA's guerrilla gardening artist Ron Finley about his project to make his neighborhood's food desert into a living breathing healthy food oasis by painting the soil canvas of its vacant lots into beautiful vegetable gardens that can nourish the body and soul of his community. Are you ready to join the new urban gangsta movement, and pick up a shovel?

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Homegrown subversive plots to feed the hungry and save the world!

It is passing strange to think that growing your own food in your own garden can be considered a subversive act! How did we come to this state, especially in the developed world, but also many cities in the developed world, that we are so alienated from the food on our own tables? Roger Doiron (see his TEDx talk below), founder of Kitchen Gardens International is correct though, in asserting that in our current industrialized global food production system, growing your own fruits and vegetables in your yard or balcony garden has become a subversive act. Because in doing so, we can take back some of the power over our own foods and lives that we have ceded to multinational corporations who control most aspects of global food production now: the policies, the money, much of the land, and the means of food production.

It is remarkable that we have lost power over something so fundamental as the food we must consume daily to survive. It was a mere 10,000 years or so ago that we invented agriculture, a huge step in humanity’s gaining power and control over our foods, and therefore our lives, by freeing ourselves from the vagaries of nature. That initial revolution fueled much of the growth of civilization and has brought us to where we are now – heavily dependent upon the industrial food production and supply system, and often with very little control over the quality of what we can put on our plates or how it is produced, or at what environmental and social costs. Yet this is one area where it should not be too hard for most of us to take back some of this power, some of the means of production: by growing our own little subversive garden plots! Doiron explains how we can do this and what we stand to gain through this subversion:

Hard to think of a downside to this, isn’t it? We need not stop with just our own little gardens in the small bits of urban space we may control – we can, and must, also work collectively to subvert public spaces towards food production, converting vacant lots and even lawns in public parks into edible landscapes that can feed the thousands of urban dwellers who may not have the space or the means to grow their own gardens. The city of Irvine in southern California (yes, the city in conservative Orange County) has done just that: opened up some effectively vacant land to growing vegetables, which apparently feed up to 200,000 people! Here’s a video tour:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXLx0D9YkKA?wmode=transparent]

To put it in terms of the activist metaphor of the moment, gardening for food is an effective way to occupy the global food system, begin to wrest it back from the corporations (even though they still control it through the sales of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and all the other paraphernalia that goes with gardening) – while simultaneously improving our health and building community. In the process, we may even begin to help heal some of the wounds we have caused in natural ecosystems, and restore some parts of local biodiversity, as is being shown by recent work on the ecology of urban gardens.

So – how would you like a little healthy homegrown subversion on your dinner plate? Give me a double helping, please!

Carolyn Steel on how food shapes our cities, and an expedition into a city’s bowels


Much food for thought in that talk by Carolyn Steel, and an excellent historical overview of how cities, especially in the west, have grown in relation to modes of food production and distribution.

Are urban dwellers really more carnivorous than their rural counterparts? Are urban dwellers in the developing world as far removed from food production as those in the north/west are?

On the other side of any city’s metabolism is something we pay even less attention to than where our food comes from – where does it eventually end up, along with our other waste products? How does a city like New York manage to keep itself relatively clean, and unflooded, given the rivers of sewage that must surely be flushed down the drain every day? This fascinating (if disgusting to some) story from the New York Times a couple of days ago chronicles a remarkable expedition through the bowels of the city, through a different kind of wilderness, below our feet.



Thanksgiving leftovers, tarkarified

Well, strictly speaking, tarkari might call for a bit more vegetable content than is typically available in thanksgiving leftovers. Nevertheless, here is my dinner tonight: turkey and stuffing, tarkarified, accompanying some pulao. And by tarkarify, i.e. rendered into tarkari, I mean stir-fried in some spicy tarka, that oil-and-masala (here made up of cumin, mustard seeds, curry leaf, turmeric, asafetida, salt, onion, garlic, tomato, and chilies in abundance) tempering base underlying much Indian cuisine. Of course the exact recipe in ths experiment is probably irreproducible!

I’m sharing the meal here mainly because I am a bit bored on my own this turkey weekend, and Elizabeth Enslin on her Facebook wall, mentioned dal-bhat-tarkari as her return to comfort food post-turkey, thus inspiring my dinner.

Bon appetít!

Mirchi – scenes of a harvest picante from an urban organic farm


Warm sun in the backyard

on a mid November morning.

White-crowned sparrows n

Ruby-crowned Kinglets,

in the trees fluttering,

singing, proclaiming their

winter kingdoms, fleeting.

As I harvest the last of the chilies,

summer heat trapped within

their green/orange/red skin,

from green-thumbed Kaberi’s

organic farm, miraculous

in our patch of suburbia.

And listen to the good doctor

cast on the pod, talking films.

(Hello, Jason Isaacs!)

Perfect Saturday!

Except my women are half a world away…

So just how many species of life did YOU eat today?

Stephen Hale reckons he ate 53 species in a single day recently over the course of 4 meals! And here’s one way he breaks down the biodiversity he consumed that day:


Here’s another way to visualize the footprint of our daily meals, in terms that should make the locavores sit up and take notice:


The article contains a much more detailed analysis of the biodiversity on Hale’s plate, giving us insight into just how omnivorous we are. With our average modern-day meals drawing upon so many living species from all over the world, shouldn’t we be more concerned about the loss of global biodivesity? Might the way to our biophilic hearts lie through our omnivorous stomachs after all? Or are we simply going to devour all we can while the going is good?

How many species have you eaten today? And what do you know about their status on this planet?