A Publicly Traded Display of Affection

Corporations have been people for nearly as long as the Fourteenth Amendment has been around to protect them. Neither the recent Citizens United case, nor my friend Mitt Romney invented corporate personhood.

Businesses have had of time to grow up – to learn how to behave and how to make friends – but few have matured. I used to be friends with Apple until I realized that his business practices were less sexy than his laptops. Google and I have a long history, but he started sharing all of my secrets. That’s not what friends do.

        There is still one corporation whom I respect as a peer and with whom I have an intimate relationship: Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. Chipotle and I have dates almost every week. I’ve introduced my other friends to him, and they too quickly fell in love.

        Chipotle has managed to set itself apart – not just from other restaurants, but from corporations in general. It’s convenient and delicious; it epitomizes the beauty of the “fast casual” dining experience. Something about Chipotle is undeniably friendly. When I eat at Chipotle, I don’t feel like an accomplice in a capitalist plot to strangle world markets. I feel like a valued customer.

        Chipotle works hard to make me feel good about eating there. Extra portions of anything (except meat) are available for free, and the workers are friendly. Regardless of how healthy the food actually is, the signs and ads that Chipotle puts out do a fantastic job to convince me that it must be nutritious. Going to Chipotle provides much more than nourishment; it makes me feel that I’ve made the right choice.

        Chipotle provides balance in a world of extremes. On the way to my favorite franchise, I drive past two ends of a spectrum: McDonald’s and Whole Foods. McDonald’s sacrifices health for taste and price, but Whole Foods sacrifices taste and price for health. Whole Foods is so responsible that it’s nearly unbearable – it isn’t worth the extra cost to know that no baby pandas were forced to conform to heteronormative gender roles in the production of a water bottle. McDonald’s, on the other hand, is so irresponsible that it makes me feel sick.

        Chipotle has built itself the perfect persona perfectly between these two. It’s socially responsible enough to appeal to self-righteous liberals like me, but not so responsible as to be lame. I like hearing that my beef was raised sustainably. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I imagine it’s the sort of thing that Al Gore would approve of. I like Al Gore.

        Everything that Chipotle does publicly seems moral and genuine. Costumers with disabilities have their meals prepared at their tables so that they can receive the full “Chipotle Experience.” Chipotle has sponsored screenings of the documentary Food, Inc. to raise awareness about the problems in the food industry. If all of this turns out to be a well-crafted plan to hide some shady practices, then I commend Chipotle’s devotion to the façade.

        Like any corporation, Chipotle has no “responsibility” to the public. Chipotle is only responsible to its shareholders. But like any ethical person, Chipotle realizes that is has moral obligations. People like to associate with responsible people. Chipotle has likely discovered that behaving well is a good choice economically.

        Like a friendship, Chipotle has no formal commitment to me. One day, I could discover that Chipotle has started putting some harmful additive into its food, and I’ll stop going there. But the two of us have a relationship based on trust that works pretty well. Chipotle offers me food and I pay what I view as a fair price for it. It’s capitalism in the pure, Smithian sense. It’s the way things worked in the proverbial “good old days.”

        It’s possible – and probably likely – that Chipotle is doing things I wouldn’t like behind my back. Maybe the beef isn’t actually harvested from sustainably-raised cows. Perhaps Chipotle has not really been behaving like a mature adult.

        But Chipotle has convinced me that stuffing my face with their burritos is a responsible choice. At the very least, Chipotle convincingly pretends to care about me. Chipotle is always there for me. Well, from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m.

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