Chipotle: The Long Defeat of Doing Nothing Well

Instead of buying from the most technologically advanced farms, Chipotle instead makes a point of sourcing as many ingredients as possible from nearby farms so it can tout ingredients as “locally grown.” But this locavorism misses some of the important lessons of Economics 101—namely, the benefits of specialization and comparative advantage. By letting people specialize in those things that they are relatively good at making and then trading with others, we all become richer and better off than if we all tried to be self-sufficient. It’s no coincidence that the cultivation of crops such as corn, wheat, potatoes, and wine grapes is clustered in certain parts of the country best suited to them.

And in spite of what one might intuit, chances are that buying local isn’t any more environmentally friendly. Although local foods do travel fewer miles, there is much more to calculating environmental impact than food-miles. The vast majority of greenhouse-gas emissions occur near where the commodity is produced. As a result, it is logical to find the most efficient spots to grow fruits and vegetables and, from there, to ship them to other regions.

Chipotle eschews high-tech pesticides and genetically modified seeds in favor of rice and beans bearing an “organic” designation, as if that were an indication of a superior product. It’s not.

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