Can Jamie Oliver Get Me to Like Chipotle?


Midtown Lunch has never really taken a stand on anything more important than protecting the right to stuff my face with loads of delicious food at lunchtime for under $10. I’ll occasionally advocate for the protection of old school street vendors… but in a lot of ways, that’s just as selfish as the first thing.   That being said, I freakin’ love Jamie Oliver.  Watching his shows and using his cookbooks over the past ten years has taught me a lot about how to cook for my family (eating dinner at home most nights of the week is what keeps me pleasantly plump, as opposed to morbidly obese).  So when I heard he was coming to L.A. to film the second season of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, and the public would be invited to meet him in Westwood I (sheepishly) headed down to check it out.

I was really just going to be in the same room as a personal hero, but a lot of what he said to the crowd got me a little fired up.  I have a 2 year old, and we actually moved to Culver City just so we wouldn’t have to put him in LAUSD (we heard a lot of bad things.)  And regardless of whether you hate reality TV, or Jamie Oliver, or activists who tell you what you should and shouldn’t do (they can be kind of annoying) I don’t see how anybody could be in favor of serving kids garbage “food” in school.  But here’s the real reason I’m writing about this (lord knows this has nothing to do with finding delicious lunch near where you work.)  Jamie told the crowd that the owner of Chipotle had given him one million dollars because he believed in the work Jamie was doing.

Urgh.  Could this actually make me like Chipotle?

I have always seen Midtown Lunch as an antidote for boring, whitewashed chains like Chipotle- especially here in L.A.!  There’s so much great Mexican food in this city, why are people obsessed with Chipotle!?  I have a complex theory about why Chipotle is bad, and have done my best to try and understand what’s to like about this extremely popular chain. But I just can’t do it.  And seeing as how the whole thing yesterday was being filmed for a TV show it would have been pretty easy to roll my eyes at this obvious sponsorship mention.  But everybody saw first hand in season one how important money was to what Jamie was doing, and if Chipotle really is interested in helping to get schools to serve real food than maybe its time to reassess my complete hatred of Chipotle.  I was inspired then and there to give them another shot… and what do you know?  There’s a Chipotle in Westwood right around the corner from Jamie’s Kitchen!  (How lucky for me!)


I went with the carnitas burrito, cilantro and lime rice (urgh), black beans, sour cream, and cheese.   It was definitely better than I remember it from years ago in NYC, but the rice is still terrible.  And their salsa verde still isn’t green (for some reason.)  Plus they don’t melt the cheese in the steamer, and adding guac still costs a ridiculous $1.75!  And you don’t get free chips!? In other words, I probably still won’t eat lunch at Chipotle.  But I am willing to finally stop railing against how much I hate Chipotle.

If you read the site you will know that clearly I’m not one of those people who requires that my food be sustainable or local or the pigs I eat have to be sung lullabies before they’re murdered. But I can’t help but be swayed just a little by Chipotle’s commitment to (supposedly) supporting local farms, using good ingredients, and meat from quality animals that were treated humanely.

Sure it could be a marketing gimmick and the million dollars could just be another situation where the people who cause the problem (fast food restaurants in general) throw a little bit of their massive profits into marketing campaigns that try to convince people they do good, rather than spending that money on doing actual good (BP anybody?) But I want to believe that a company like giant company like Chipotle can make money, and do right things the right way. At least the food appears to look and smell and taste like real food- unlike places like McDonald’s where the “food” smells and tastes the way it does because it is chemically engineered to taste that way.

And that’s why I support what Jamie Oliver is doing, and promise to not bash Chipotle if it turns out they really are committed to creating a fast food restaurant that serves real food. I don’t expect or require my favorite restaurants in Thai Town, or my local taco truck, or favorite Korean BBQ place to use organic meat and local produce. These are small local businesses with hardworking owners who are trying to keep their food cheap to compete in the increasingly corporate food landscape. I also don’t believe they can truly effect change in what has become an enormously large machine. But the large corporations can. If a company like McDonald’s decided that they wanted their purveyors to only sell pesticide free tomatoes, this country would instantly only sell pesticide free tomatoes. LAUSD has that same kind of power, and I hope they let Jamie Oliver help them to exercise that power.

If you agree, you can find info on how to help here.

Sorry for getting preachy. I largely believe that adults should be able to eat whatever they want- provided they are aware of what is actually in the food they’re eating. And lord knows I’m a fat pig who eats some pretty unhealthy stuff for lunch. But at least the food I champion on Midtown Lunch is real food made from real ingredients- not manufactured in bulk in a factory. And while adults can make their own decisions, I think our kids need a little bit more guidance (especially if our taxes are paying for it!) How can anybody be against that?  Yes, parents need to do a better job.  But that doesn’t let schools off the hook.

And if it turns out Chipotle is serious about helping in that cause, and creating a model where a corporate fast food restaurant can be popular and make money while selling real food, I will stop bashing them as the antithesis of what Midtown Lunch is all about.

The Midtown Lunch Ultimate Burrito Theory (and how it relates to Chipotle sucking)



  • Jamie Oliver is the only celeb chef I think is a force for good. Most of them are only interested in expanding their empire.

  • Padma couldn’t get me to like Chipotle.

  • Bravo. I agree, Jamie *seems* to be a good guy with a big heart. He didn’t really need to do the 15 Project or Jamie’s School dinners in the UK or US to help his career, but he did them, and probably improved the world as a result.

    I also think his message was spot-on in his TED speech.

    And you could do far worse than Chipotle. #guiltypleasures

  • Great post, Zach. @JustinM Padma could get me to like a Walgreen’s sandwich.

  • Love this piece Zach. I’m the sort of person who always waxes about what I believe in, so I think this is the kind of post that, when published few and far between, has more staying power. I 100% agree that school food should improve, and if Jamie Oliver can do it with the help of Chipotle’s owner, then more power to him. Like you, I really like Jamie Oliver – I think he might have had a phase where he was a super celebrity chef, but the man can cook. I really like that he uses his celebrity to promote positive change. It’s so much more admirable than a lot of Top Chef celebrities.

    I remember my junior high and high school cafeterias – they were terrible in almost every way except that they were cheap. There’s gotta be a better way to do things.

    I would like to think that schools could use sustainable/local food programs to promote SO much more than food – about different cultures, climate change, literature, even economics/business.

  • Thank you for writing this thoughtful article. I sent some emails this morning to LAUSD about this issue.

    When I was living in Orange County and when I barely left Westwood my first year or two in LA, Chipotle seemed like a great option. Now there is one less than a block from where I work and I don’t ever give it another look. I’ll wait until I can get a good burrito or taco from a truck (had a great burrito El Flamin Taco in Echo Park last night).

  • I really like Jamie Oliver and his lispy little fake cockney. Food Revolution managed to be great television, with a good message. I suggest his cookbooks for anyone who wants a simple general purpose stand-by book for the kitchen.

    I have nothing against Chipotle as a chain burrito. But one thing we should be clear about, there is absolutely nothing healthy about that burrito. I don’t think Zach was trying to do this, but lets not conflate organic with healthy. Based of the description that burrito is about 1000 calories, 45g of fat, and 2260 of sodium (amount suggested for the entire day). That’s like two KFC double downs.

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    If I was still going to school and all they served was Chipotle meals, I would have just skipped lunch entirely. Chipotle’s food is disgusting. Even if Chipotle donated $1 billion to Jamie Oliver, it wouldn’t change the fact that their food tastes like it came from garbage. Chipotle is uonly successful because there are many people out there that suffer from deformed or abnormal taste buds.

    Rather than donating money to Jamie Oliver, Chipotle should pump in more money into their R&D Dept. to create and serve food that actually tastes good.

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    Give me a f-ing break.

    If youre going to Chipotle to be healthy youre a fucking moron.

    Screw Jamie Oliver, Screw Zach, screw LA.

  • haha… where do i say anything about being healthy?

    • You didn’t at all. But suggesting that Chipotle cares about the diet of our (well, your) children because of some donation is a bit like saying cigarette companies care about children’s health because they donate to anti-smoking programs in schools. They still almost exclusively unhealthy food.

      Also, why do we care about eating “real food” if it’s still terrible for you? That was a repeated criticism I had of the first Food Revolution. That, and him selling his soul to Birdseye frozen vegetables throughout.

      Anyway, not trying to hate, just injecting a little cynacism.

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    It’s hard to get away from the sodium in almost any Quick Service joint, because it’s all made from processed ingredients. Burritos from La Salsa, Baja Fresh, Baja Bud’s, Poquito Mas and Chipotle all have around 2,500 mg sodium–an entire day’s recommended allowance–and they don’t taste salty.

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