By Callie McBride
I’ve recently come to face a difficult fact: I simply cannot avoid fast food. It’s definitely true that at certain points in life a person who willingly chooses not to eat fast food can do so flawlessly. Perhaps a young person who moves into a neighborhood full of health food stores and organic cafes (my dream come true!), or maybe an older couple whose kids have flown the coop, leaving more time to cook meals at home. But as a thrifty college student with a 5-inch thick planner and hardly enough time to call home (funny how that works out), sometimes I am forced to hit up the drive-throughs.
My first month or so in Manhattan, I found myself at the Whole Foods Columbus Circle salad bar multiple times a week; that’s food that comes fast, right? But its also between $10 and $15 a box. Not to mention that all NYC Whole Foods- I mean all- are swarming with people at any given hour, making the dining experience quite stressful. Yet cheaper fast food joints like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or Pizza Hut only offer sugary, high-calorie meals disguised as salads, and hardly any other meat-free options. Can a vegan find some middle ground!?
Yes! It’s a little gem called Chipotle Mexican Grill. With almost 100 restaurants in New York alone, (1200 world-wide) this establishment isn’t anything new to the city, but it could be new to vegans who assume that it’s off-limits. I even pre-judged the restaurant, a favorite to my meat-eating family: Beefy, cheesy burritos? Um, no thanks.
Turns out I was completely wrong! I now find myself choosing fast food instead of running away from it. Here’s the real story behind the mexi-madness: After attending the Culinary Institute of America and working as a line cook at his favorite San Francisco restaurant for some years, Chipotle founder Steve Ells, only 32 at the time, decided to do something crazy–open a tiny little Mexican dive with a generous loan from his father.
With the intention of offering few but fresh ingredients on his tiny menu–think sauteed veggies, fresh pico de gallo, and homemade guacamole–his little idea grew enormously in the first five years, so much so that McDonald’s made an investment which helped the restaurant expand to the size that it is today. Consumer Reports named Chipotle as the best Mexican fast-food chain in 2011.
This chain is perfect for anyone seeking healthy options on-the-go, and to aid in weight loss, the website offers the full nutritional information for all of its items–and boasts of its commitment to only serving fresh ingredients. As a vegan, I have no problem with the menu; in fact, I’m convinced that mine is the healthiest order yet: the Burrito Bowl with fajita veggies, black beans, pico de gallo, lettuce, and fresh guacamole. According to Chipotle’s Nutrition Calculator, that’s only 315 calories! Add brown rice to round out your meal and you’re feasting on incredible Mexican food for just under 500 calories.
If the picture isn’t enough proof to convince you that Chipotle should be your fast-food chain of choice, listen to this. Ells has recently updated his restaurant’s brand with a new mission called “Food With Integrity”. He and his workers are committed to “finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the environment, and the farmers.” This means that Chipotle supports and sustains family farmers who respect their land and animals, sources organic and local produce whenever possible, and serves sustainably raised food with great nutrition. And recently announcements were made that the company is now sourcing from pasture-raised animals. Along with sustainability regarding land and animals, Chipotle’s green design also accounts for its service to the planet. Get this: it’s the nation’s first ever Platinum LEED certified restaurant (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)!
To me, nothing tastes better than fresh, wholesome food that has been created sustainably and earth-consciously. That’s exactly what you will find at Chipotle.
If Mexican food isn’t your cup of tea, but you’re also like me (a die-hard avoider of all fast food), try doing some research the next time you are cringing at those drive-throughs. You may be surprised to find that current fast-food chains are reinventing their menus to keep up with healthier lifestyles among Americans. Salads, fruit, and low-calorie drinks are being featured much more at popular drive-through restaurants, so your next road trip won’t include you starving all the way to your destination! Just be sure to check online for the nutritional information; if weight loss is your ultimate goal, make sure not to let those dastardly caloric salads fool you.