Can Fast Food Go Green?

Fast food grows a conscience (and snags your family dollars).

Like most of the green wave of fast-food outlets, Elevation also makes environmental claims that include the policy of transferring all of the waste materials from its construction sites to recycling plants for salvage before they are eventually sunk into landfills. Elevation uses Energy Star-rated appliances and compact florescent and LED lighting. Each outlet features renewable bamboo flooring, compressed sorghum tabletops, and low- or no-VOC paints and sealants. All of the paper goods unwrapped on those sorghum tabletops are made with high post-consumer content. 

While the origin of Chipotle Mexican Grill in Denver, Colorado, in the 1990s precedes the one-two punch of Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me, the chain of Tex-Mex restaurants certainly exploded after those dual muckrakers hit. Eventually, stock in Chipotle was traded on the New York Stock Exchange, but its origins were incredibly simple. Its founder, a CIA graduate named Steve Ells, thought to offer a sleeker, more corporate-looking version of the Mexican-owned taquerias that he found on corners all over San Francisco. The model works, even in Westchester, where we have a wealth of excellent taquerias. Chipotle’s two Westchester outlets in Yonkers and Rye Brook debuted to thronged dining rooms. (A third is scheduled to open on Main Street in White Plains before summer’s end.) 

As with Elevation and Bareburger, Chipotle’s marketing stresses the purity of its cruelty-free ingredients. Chipotle’s beef and pork are pasture-raised on vegetarian diets, and the milk that goes into Chipotle’s cheese is hormone-free. However, as in the entire green wave of fast-food restaurants, it pays to read between the lines. Nowhere does its website claim that Chipotle’s chicken is also free-range, and only 40 percent of the beans (that are a key ingredient in most dishes) are certified organic. Also, while the chain claims to strive for the lowest possible environmental impact with sustainable materials in its buildings, details available to support this statement are few. That said, Chipotle does have an emblematic outlet in Gurnee, Illinois, that features an electricity-generating wind turbine and a cistern that uses rainwater for irrigation.

Is the new green wave of fast-food restaurants any better for your family than the original versions? The answer depends on whether you’re gullible enough to think that burgers, fries, and shakes are a reasonable substitution for a wholesome, home-cooked meal. (They’re not.) But these new restaurants do offer local parents a slew of intriguing justifications for the fast food habits they established long ago at McDonald’s and Burger King.

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