This week has been a roller coaster for lovers of Chipotle, guacamole, or both (which is everyone right?). In a routine filing for the Security and Exchange Commission, Chipotle Inc. detailed its food costs and financial statements for 2013. Included in the report is information on rising costs of certain food items and their subsequent adverse effect on Chipotle’s profit margins. The report noted that many of the factors contributing to the increase in price were outside of the business’s control (read: climate change). In order to quell any loses, Chipotle entertained the idea of suspending offerings like salsa and guacamole until food costs decline. And with that the gauntlet was dropped and pseudo-virtual chaos ensued.
The progressive blog ThinkProgress published an article by Emily Atkin on the upcoming “gaucpocalypse” and patrons took to Twitter to express their concern. Not wanting things to get out of hand, Chipotle was quick to release a response noting that no changes were currently in process, thereby diminishing any public uproar and the social media outcry.
While no one wants the production or sale of guacamole to end (I think, I hope!?), this faux crisis served as an example of the need for concrete branding in social justice issues, particularly that of climate change.
In the realm of U.S. social movements the most successful are those that are able to condense often vast and layered missions into simple, understandable and repeatable symbols and statements. Examples include the now pervasive equal sign for marriage equality, the boldly named M.A.D.D (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), and the powerful rallying cries of Act Up in the fight against AIDS. Though it is certainly fair and necessary to critique the ways in which branding of issues contributes to oversimplification and potential ignorance, all of the aforementioned were and are able to grab hold of the public consciousness in ways that are permanent and meaningful.
Climate change, due to its interconnected nature and countless moving parts, has not been able to coordinate a singular rallying cry to unload the issue. Surely it would be impossible to place “Recycle, End King Coal, Eat Less Meat, Save Water Shower Together, Go Local, Drive Electric, End Corporate Conglomerates, Shop Small, and No Farms No Food” on a flag and hang it on top of the Seattle Space Needle. It is precisely this complicated front that renders Chipotle’s guacamole important.
Guacamole served as a tangible casualty to climate change and the public surely took note. Whether in the form of an article, tweet or Facebook post, most comments lamenting the potential demise of Chipotle “guac” connected increased global temperatures and climate change to the avocado emergency with subsequently calls for action on these issues. The previously mentioned ThinkProgress piece even opened with “It’s your choice, America. Fix the climate, or the guac gets it.”
Instead of theoretical could-happens, the guacamole shortage served as an actual is-happening, the exact kind of evidence needed to propel the movement into fixed public notice. While appropriating guacamole for political expediency regarding climate change policies seems absurd, it is this kind of brand needed if we want to end indifference and encourage widespread action.
Whatever the brand is it will have to be accessible and thorough, personal and political. And though perhaps the avocado cannot serve as an effective image for a global environmental movement maybe we can at least institute a policy that says “If you don’t believe in climate change, no ‘guac’ for you.”
Maura Hallisey is a 2013 graduate of Connecticut College where she studied Film Studies, Sociology, and Public Policy, with a concentration of gender in the media. She currently works at a history museum in Hartford, CT and is a fanatic of running, biking and sharks.