Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: Burritos and Socially-Conscious Docs

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There I was, just another guy standing on a long line of guys waiting to get a burrito at a Chipotle in Manhattan, when I noticed a poster for Food, Inc. placed right above the guacamole. I don’t usually think of socially-conscious docs and fast food chains as natural partners, so I looked it up when I got home. Lo and behold, the Food, Inc. filmmakers have teamed up with Chipotle, which sponsored free screenings of the doc last month in addition to advertising the film in its restaurants.

Food, IncIn a statement about the joint venture with Chipotle, Food, Inc. director Robert Kenner carefully asserts that Chipotle is a company “on the right track.” Indeed, in addition to serving fresh-tasting food, the chain’s beans are about 30% organic, which is either a laudable or laughable statistic, depending on your point of view.

It didn’t surprise me to see that the good people over at Participant Media are the producers behind Food, Inc. If there were ever a feature film corollary to POV, it would have to be Participant, which has a similar mandate: in their own words, they want to produce “ entertainment that inspires and compels social change.

Participant has produced docs such as An Inconvenient Truth and Darfur Now, and features such as Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck. This is some glitzy material, and Participant stands almost alone on that shaky divide between commercialism and social action. They incorporate social action plans with their films, but they also produced horror film called The Crazies, in which the folks in a Kansas town are overcome by insanity and death after a toxin contaminates their water supply. (The film is coming out early next year, and it’s apparently going to have a George Romero-ish social metaphor, so I’ll have to withhold judgment for the moment.)

So far, Food, Inc. has made close to $3 million at the box office, so they’ve managed to do well. And after telling the POV team that I was going to write about Food, Inc., I found further reason to admire the film’s efforts to reach a mass audience: POV has just picked up the film, and will be airing Food, Inc. in 2010. It seems that ambitious (and conscientious) minds sometimes do think alike.

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • Kim

    FOREIGNID: 19758
    The movie ‘The Crazies’ is actually a remake of a George Romero movie called ‘The Crazies’ made back in 1973, so the metaphor seems fitting.

  • Aqiyla

    FOREIGNID: 19759
    Thanks for doing your research Tom…however, it doesn’t appear that Chipotle is doing any harm in promoting a documentary that they see as a social vehicle. In looking at the Chipotle mission on their site (refer to: and in reading the owner’s story, it seems pretty laudable to me!
    If you want to be disappointed in something, be disappointed in the social and economic system running the show. Not the people, nor business keeping up with it! People produce what they see. It’s their realities at work.
    I’m still very curious to see Food, Inc. and will continue to support “socially conscious” or “unconsciuos” media. I think it is VERY laudable indeed!

  • Melissa

    FOREIGNID: 19760
    Saw Food Inc. and think everyone should see it. Not only do we drastically need to change the way our food is produced and marketed, we need to eat more plant-based foods to ensure the health of humans, animals, and the planet. :)

  • KT

    FOREIGNID: 19761
    I have to wonder if Chipotle is backing the film in order to improve its image–McDonalds was its main investor until 2006, when it sold off all of its businesses to focus on the hamburger chain. Is it fair to say that Chipotle succeeded thanks to McDonalds? It’s kind of ironic that it’s sponsoring a film like Food Inc–hypocritical, I think.

  • LRS

    FOREIGNID: 19763
    I think a company should do better than 30% before it backs a social statement like FOOD INC. I’m not buying it.

  • KT

    FOREIGNID: 19764
    30% organic beans is a pretty weak claim and not a real indication the company is on the right track. Do they have a plan in place to go 100% organic? Where does their chicken come from? How do they treat their employees? Do they carry Coca Cola and other corn-syryp based products? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I would be curious to know if Chipotle actually embodies the values Food Inc preaches.

  • Erin

    FOREIGNID: 19765
    Although Chipotle has made advances in many ways, they still are buying tomatoes from sources that do not pay fair wages, and even go so far as to engage in what is known as modern-day slavery. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida is trying to bring this issue to the forefront. Please visit their website to see the whole story!

  • Doc Soup Man

    FOREIGNID: 19766
    As a former ticked-off vegan who now eats the occasional chicken McNugget, I can say I see both sides of the argument. It struck me as both wonderfully progressive to see that Food Inc. poster in a Chipotle, at the same time that it felt suspect. As for how they treat their employees, I can’t say, but haven’t you noticed how much happier the workers appear there than, say, at Cosi? And yet, Erin’s comment about the Immokalee workers warrants further research.
    I think, like Romero’s film (and the remake); it comes down to how cultural products, businesses, activists are all on this spectrum of self-interest (read: profit) and trying to do what’s good for the world (of course, those are not always exclusive). And then when you throw in short-term versus long-term interests, and it gets very complicated.
    Some of us try to do our best and most of us can always try to do better.

  • john

    FOREIGNID: 19819
    The real question is: How much were you paid to write a favorable article about the movie?