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Moe’s Goes for Foes

March 17, 2011

It’s no secret how I feel about Chipotle. For a long time, they were one of the only places around to get a meal made with ethically raised meats and other ingredients I could feel good about. At a point when one couldn’t buy sour cream or cheese made from cows that weren’t treated with rBST in supermarkets, Chipotle was stocking these ingredients in their restaurants.

Based on this model, Chipotle has been very successful.

My hope had always been that others would follow their example. And this hope was realized when I learned that Moe’s was launching a sustainability initiative. Although when I started to check into the details, I was surprised and a little bit skeptical by some of their claims.

So I reached out to Moe’s corporate P.R. to see if they could provide me with answers. Their response was to set up a call between me and their Executive Chef Dan Barash. Well, chef Dan and I spoke last week for about a half hour, and I learned some really interesting things.

You can check out Moe’s Food Mission for yourself. There are a few small things on their green wheel that are important and shouldn’t be overlooked: the sour cream is rBGH free and the tofu is organic.

The thing that I saw that made me question the integrity of this program was the steak.

Their claim was that the steak is “100% sirloin steak, grass-fed, no hormones added.” Frankly it sounded too good to be true, especially since grass-fed beef is significantly more expensive than conventional raised feed-lot beef, and Moe’s wasn’t doubling the price of a steak burrito. How could this possibly be on the up-and-up?

Well, not only does it turn out to be legitimate, but their steak is even better than the marketing would indicate. The steak is also grass-finished and the cows aren’t treated to subtherapeutic levels of antibiotics.

And here is the most surprising part. The reason prices aren’t increasing is that this is the steak they’ve been using all along.

Really? Well, it’s from New Zealand. And in a country that’s all grass and no people, that’s how they raise livestock. Occasionally Moe’s will have to supplement their New Zealand steak with some purchases from Uruguay, but that far away country also employs similar standards of animal husbandry.

Now you have to ask yourself what’s more important, animal welfare and the food you put in your body, or the carbon footprint of its transportation around the globe. Given that I enjoy Australian wine, Korean noodles, African coffee, consumer electronics, chocolate and shoes, my decision is clear.

Speaking of animal welfare, I asked Chef Dan about their pork. Recently the Humane Society captured a video of Smithfield hogs in gestation crates, illuminating what this practice that is banned around the world and in several U.S. states actually looks like. It’s not pretty. As it turns out, he says that they are working with the Humane Society to improve their sourcing. While they aren’t there quite yet, it’s encouraging to know that these issues are on the company’s radar.

Likewise, Moe’s goal is to get the antibiotics out of their chicken. Right now they serve 100% breast meat that is cage free. And that is certainly a step in the right direction.

Change comes slow to big companies. Especially franchised restaurants that have over 400 locations in more than 30 states. And I salute them for the effort. But as it turns out, the best news about the product is that didn’t change at all.

So I’m headed to Moe’s to get me one of their steak burritos. Chef Dan gave me the build that he prefers and I’m going to try it out and report back to you all sometime soon.

In the meantime, I’ll still go to Chipotle for their happy pork carnitas. And I’m hopeful that this grass-fed and finished steak burrito is super-delicious. I had been needlessly avoiding it for years based on the false assumption it was made with factory-farmed beef, when in reality that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

I am very pleased.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2011 10:27 am

    I didn’t know they used NZ beef. That’s great! Yay Kiwis.

    • Jenny on the Block permalink
      March 17, 2011 11:59 am

      Good news! Especially since although I do like Chipotle, my kids still prefer Moe’s.

  2. March 17, 2011 12:26 pm

    This is good news, but I still don’t like Moe’s food. I just think Chipotle tastes better.

  3. March 17, 2011 2:00 pm

    “working on their [pork] sourcing with the Humane Society” but “they’re not there yet”? That’s like an alcoholic “working on” getting sober. Chef Dan, you need to just stop.

    I don’t know what specifically the Humane Society is doing, but the Animal Welfare Foundation has made a special cause of promoting non-factory farming methods for pork. I’m sure they can put you in touch with producers and farm collectives that will be very happy to meet your needs.

  4. March 17, 2011 2:45 pm

    I read about this a while ago, but I’m glad you did the legwork of making sure it wasn’t a false claim. I love Moe’s. And Chipotle. Just depends if I’m near the airport or Stuyvesant Plaza, plus Moe’s closes too early.

  5. Chad permalink
    March 21, 2011 9:26 pm

    Daniel,

    I’m a little late in sending this, but I thought you might appreciate it, given your love of Chipolte
    http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/03/meet-eat-chef-nate-appleman-chipotle.html

    Cheers,

    Chad

  6. March 10, 2012 10:31 pm

    Heh; kinda surprised this just came on my radar, as this post is about a year old. Of all places, I saw the “grass-fed” claim on a random internet ad. Never heard hide nor hair of it otherwise, despite the fact that there’re three Moe’s in my town. Never was a fan of the food there, either, but as I barely eat out anymore for reasons of poor food quality, sustainability, et cetera, this place might become a quick fix for me now and again. I guess it’s like you said, though: The logistics of shipping and all that kind of makes it feel a bit less worthwhile. I guess they have contracts with these companies to keep costs down, but I wish individual franchises (for Moe’s and every other restaurant) would get with local farmers and help make grass-fed standard fare.

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