Why some students just can't quit Chipotle

By Jason Schwartz

Everyone has their go-to order when they make the trek over to Green Street for Chipotle. I assume most people didn’t expect a side order of E. coli with their burrito; however, from last October until last week, some burrito enthusiasts received a sickening surprise.

In total, Chipotle’s E. coli debacle hospitalized 22 people across the country and put a massive dent in the company’s “healthy food” label. http://money.cnn.com/2016/02/02/investing/chipotle-earnings-e-coli/ ss

Chipotle was once one of the hottest stocks on the market, at a share price of nearly $750. But after the E. Coli outbreak, the stock fell 42 percent to under $430 per share. The company also expects the outbreak to cost roughly $15 million in sales. http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/15/news/companies/chipotle-food-safety-meeting/?iid=EL ss

But you wouldn’t know it by the lines on this campus at the location on Green Street. The wait was as unbearable as ever, and the demand for burritos never wavered. For whatever reason, most students didn’t seem to take the health threat seriously at all.

“I would rather die without it,” Omer Oppenheim, senior in AHS, said in an interview last week with The Daily Illini. “I didn’t look into (the E. coli outbreak) that much. I wasn’t nervous because I was so misinformed on E. coli, and I didn’t know what it would do to you.”

After Monday, when every Chipotle closed during lunch time for a four-hour food safety meeting, it appeared the E.coli crisis had finally come to an end (but not before a lucky few snagged free burritos through a text offer).

The question remains though: Why was Chipotle’s business on campus as booming as ever given our generation’s frequent fussing over health issues? As an example, many millennials have recently expressed distaste for Genetically Modified Organisms.

A GMO is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. GMOs are used in both the field of medicine and in food. They have been FDA-approved since 1982 and on shelves in grocery stores since the 1990s. http://organic.lovetoknow.com/History_of_GMOs ss

Everyone knows E. coli is unsafe to consume, yet the students on this campus appear more intent on avoiding an FDA-approved, genetically modified ear of corn than a potentially hazardous burrito bowl.

A recent survey showed that 52 percent of the American population believes that GMOs are unsafe to eat. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=97567 ss

People are opting more and more to buy more expensive, albeit healthier, organic food. In just the past four years, retail sales of organic food in the United States have increased over 55 percent. http://www.statista.com/topics/1047/organic-food-industry/ ss

This is not to say that people should stop buying organic food; it is a very healthy option. But it is curious how quickly our nation, and specifically our generation, is to dismiss GMOs given that they have been FDA-approved for over 30 years.

“The agency is not aware of any valid scientific information showing that foods derived from genetically engineered plants, as a class of foods, differ from other foods in any meaningful way,” the FDA said in a press release. “(Genetically engineered) foods don’t present greater safety concerns than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.” http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/theres-no-need-label-gmo-plants-fda-says-n468301 ss

GMOs decrease the chance that crops will fail and increase the shelf-life of food, which allows it to be transported to countries without access to nutrition-rich foods. Despite all the helpful uses for GMOs, people are still reluctant to trust scientists in a lab with their food.

My grandfather, Arnold Hershman, worked at Monsanto, a leader in genetically engineered seed, for over 50 years, and he agreed with that theory: “The public knows there are bacteria; however, the public categorizes bacteria as ‘natural’. Unfortunately, that also makes (the public) accept the poor sanitation that leads to illnesses (caused by bacteria).”

Maybe that’s the distinction. It’s as simple as nature vs. science, and Millennials still tend to trust nature more when it comes to food. We, of course, the generation that grew up with the most technologically advanced tools at our disposal.

Seemingly everyone was quick to either defend Chipotle or simply ignore the significant health issues the company caused.

Perhaps Millennials are still less trusting of scientists. Perhaps Chipotle has become so ingrained in our food culture on campus that it is unavoidable. Perhaps people are scared by terms like “genetically modified” when it comes to their food.

Whatever the reason that Millennials trust Chipotle over the FDA, it’s clear that students should be more aware of what’s in their food, regardless of how tasty it may be.

“Bacteria are much more of a threat to health than GMOs,” Hershman said. “The public should hold the food community much more responsible for cleaning the food we eat.”

Jason is a senior in LAS.

[email protected]