Food Babe Investigates: Chipotle vs. Moe’s

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Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe) is a regular contributor on 100 Days of Real Food. To learn more about Vani check her out on “Our Team” page.

Before I get into the meat of this next investigation (no pun intended), I’d like to express my disappointment with Chipotle and Moe’s. Both of them made it extremely difficult (just like Yoforia) to get the exact ingredients in their product offerings. With marketing phrases like “Food with Integrity” and “Feed the Moement” – you’d think their messages would easily be backed by ingredients they would be willing to share. Unfortunately, this is not the case at all and it took extreme perseverance to get quality information about their ingredients. Perseverance the average consumer would likely never have.

It’s saddening to watch two competitors leading the way in organic/local/healthy fast food offerings being so secretive. If they were true leaders, they would have nothing to hide, right? I’m not saying Subway, Panera Bread and McDonalds are better than Chipotle or Moe’s – but you do have to hand it to them for willingly posting their ingredients for everyone to see.

When I emailed Chipotle asking for the ingredients in certain products they downright refused. They in turn asked if I was concerned about a specific ingredient or had an allergy. Really? Why do I have to be concerned about a specific ingredient or have an allergy to want to know what I am eating and what’s in my food? When I tried to call them, there was no way for me to leave a message or get a person on the phone to answer my questions. Email responses were S-L-O-W. I had to ask very specific questions to get the data I needed to write this – specific questions that most consumers would likely not ask. Thank goodness for the genuinely accommodating employee who shared some of the ingredients with me (behind his Manager’s back) so I could give you the full story.

I had to call the headquarters of Moe’s every single day for 8 days, visit 2 different Moe’s, and call 5 different locations in different states to finally get the full story. Moe’s company does not provide their stores with an ingredient list of what they are serving, only an allergy info guide. Since the stores throw out the labeled boxes as soon as the food packages comes in, you would have no hope in knowing exactly what you are eating unless you call the headquarters and badger them until they finally concede.

I can only assume Chipotle and Moe’s are betting that you’ll give up and continue to be acquiesced with their marketing messages that in many cases are misleading and in some cases inaccurate.  Now that you know what it took to get this information, let’s take a look at the results of the investigation.



Both restaurants use cheap genetically modified (a.k.a. GMO) soybean oil to make most of their food. Over-consumption of this cheap oil is causing  an imbalance of Omega 6 fatty acids, which increases the risk of inflammation, heart disease, obesity, and prostate and bone cancer.

Chipotle and Moe’s both pride themselves that your meal can be “customized,” but when I asked if they could make my food without GMO oils, they couldn’t. The chicken, beef, rice, beans and the tortillas (flour, corn and soft) are all not customizable, so you have no choice but to consume GMOs if you order these items.

If you are a regular consumer of Chipotle and Moe’s because of their “local, organic and healthy” messages, you also need to be concerned about consuming GMOs. Here’s why:

  • Over 50 countries have significant restrictions or outright bans on GMOs, but here in the United States the FDA continues to not require safety standards or testing on GMOs. To date, there has been no long term study conducted for humans.
  • The Institute of Responsible Technology reported a study showing GMOs caused toxic and allergic reactions, sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals.
  • After consuming GMOs, your intestines basically turn into a breeding ground for pesticides (here’s a video explaining further). GMO soy and corn actually produce pesticides inside themselves. The plant becomes toxic inside so insects won’t eat it.
  • A study conducted and published in the Anatomical Record revealed that female rats fed GMO soy for 15 months showed significant health issues in their uterus and reproductive cycle, compared to rats fed organic soy or those raised without soy.
  • A 2009 French Study concluded the key ingredient in GMO soy can kill the cells in the outer layer of the human placenta, the organ that connects the mother to her fetus, providing nutrients and oxygen and emptying waste products.
  • A Russian study conducted on hamsters that were fed GMO soy diets for two years over three generation found that by the third generation, most of the hamsters lost the ability to have babies, showed slower growth, and suffered a higher mortality rate.
  • Fertility issues in males were also observed when a study on male rabbits found a decrease in sexual activity and sperm concentration and an increase in dead or abnormal sperm when they were fed GM soy.
  • Please note – Since neither Chiptole’s or Moe’s carries 100% Organic USDA certified label meat, the animals were all likely raised with GMO feed, which does get transferred to us when we consume it.

I could really go on and on forever listing out the different studies about the potential health consequences and why you should be concerned about consuming GMOs. I would also like to note that you will likely encounter GMOs at any restaurant (or with any processed, packaged foods) unless it is 100% organic. If you want to learn even more – This PDF from the Institute of Responsible Technology is a great reference. And if you live in California – you must vote “Yes to Prop 37” this November to label GMOs. The outcome will likely effect all of us.

So what else did I find? Here’s a closer look at some of my other discoveries:

  • Moe’s Grass-Fed Steak – This is where Moe’s really messes up. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to say their “No MSG” label on their marketing is a big fat lie. They lace their prized grass-fed meat with 3 hidden sources of MSG – hydrolyzed soy protein, hydrolyzed corn and hydrolyzed yeast. The amount of MSG that restaurants can put in your food is not regulated. MSG is an excitotoxin that “if given in large enough doses” can excite brain cells to deathMSG can cause adverse reactions in some people including “skin rashes, itching, hives, nausea, vomiting, migraine headaches, asthma, heart irregularities, depression and even seizures.”
  • Moe’s Ground Beef - Not organic, likely contains hormones and antibiotics, contains chemical preservatives and sweetened with corn syrup. I didn’t know ground beef needed to be sweetened, yuck.
  • Chipotle’s Pork Carnitas - The only meat available to be made without GMO soybean oil.
  • Chipotle’s & Moe’s Flour Tortillas – Made with enriched white flour and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (a.k.a. trans fat). “Previous trials have linked even a 40-calorie-per-day increase in trans fat intake to a 23% higher risk of heart disease.” 40 calories is a mere 2% of a typical 2000 calorie per day diet.  Trans fats can be deadly even in a small amount and as you can see will easily add up if you go over one serving size.
  • Chipotle’s Corn Tacos (soft or hard) - Contains preservatives and cellulose that’s made from wood pulp. Cellulose is used as filler to processed foods because it doesn’t contain calories or fat content and is cheap. Your body simply cannot use this ingredient at all nutritionally and lacks the enzymes to digest it. The thought of a company adding a cheap filler to my food to boost profits just doesn’t sit well with me, and tortillas are easily made without it.
  • Moe’s Whole Grain Tortilla – Contains many preservatives and colored with a potential carcinogen (caramel coloring) proven to cause liver tumors, lung tumors, and thyroid tumors in rats and mice.
  • Chipotle’s Roasted Chili-Corn Salsa, Tomatoes and Cilantro - These are the only two guaranteed items at Chipotle that are GMO free.
  • Moe’s El Guapo Salsa – Also colored with questionable caramel coloring. WOW. Why did they add color to the salsa? Because Moe’s salsa is a highly processed product that is mainly tomato concentrate, not real chopped tomatoes.
  • Chipotle’s Cheese - Only 65% of their cheese offering is from naturally raised cattle. Are you willing to take a 35% chance and consume antibiotics and growth hormone? 8/15 Update: Chipotle responded and said their dairy, including their cheese is now 100% antibiotic and growth hormone free – but only 65% pastured raised.
  • Moe’s Queso – Processed cheese product that is not from naturally raised animals. Contains propylene glycol, a petroleum based chemical food additive. It’s the same stuff you can find in antifreeze, and it has been reported that the following symptoms can arise after repeated small doses – throat irritation, headache, backache, and kidney problems.
  • Some Good News – Moe’s and Chipotle do not use microwaves nuking food to death or allowing it to sit out cold and be reheated again and again.

VERDICT: Clearly, based on the overly processed nature of Moe’s products, Chipotle is the lesser of two evils, especially if you just stick to a salad with guacamole and salsa. For me – I am tired of always having to choose between the lesser of two evils and it’s going to be hard to support or trust either establishment until they man up and post their ingredients.

If you are wondering how I’m going to satisfy my burrito craving until then, check out a ridiculously fast 100% organic, non-GMO, and additive free recipe here.


Vani HariVani Hari a.k.a. Food Babe is an organic living expert, food activist and writer on She teaches people how to make the right purchasing decisions at the grocery store, how to live an organic lifestyle, and how to travel healthfully around the world. The success in her writing and investigative work can be seen in the way food companies react to her uncanny ability to find and expose the truth. To follow Vani, check her out on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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205 comments to Food Babe Investigates: Chipotle vs. Moe’s

  • Christan Resz

    Eye-opening, to say the least. I’m thinking that homemade is going to be the only way to go :( We don’t have a Moe’s where I live, but we have a Chipotle. I do frequent there. But now I’m going to have to reconsider.

  • gidget

    interesting I’ve never been to either so I guess I’m good!

    I’d love to read about Jason’s Deli or Noodles n Company. Although I really like them so maybe not :)

  • WOW, eye opening information here. I really enjoy Chipotle…but it looks like I have some thinking to do before I do there again. Thanks!

  • Awesome write up. Chipotle is always my go-to if we’re eating out, and I’m glad to see a more critical look at the food they’re selling. It’s not all bad, but they do have some explaining to do still.
    I’m voting Yes on 37 in November! Anyone interested can google “yes on 37″ to find the CA Right to Know campaign website!

  • Sara Merritt

    With each post I read on your site, the more I just want to make all of my own food from scratch! It tastes better anyways. Thanks for the great investigations and information you provide.

  • This is sad news as I tell my kids “the 2 places you can eat are Chipolte & in and out.. thats it”
    Now im not so sure!!!
    We live right outside of Davis and Napa in Ca and we have ONE place to get organic meals on the go and its a JUICE BAR!!!!
    Thanks for sharing, keep it comin!

  • Sarah

    I’m wondering how Qdoba stacks up…we like it better than Chipotle anyway, but I have a strong feeling it’s not good for us. I mean, it IS fast food.

  • I always get the vegetarian bowl with no cheese…but I do love their chips…I’m assuming they use the GMO oil for those? =(

  • Jaime

    Oh man! I guess I’m not totally surprised, but this makes me sad and wonder if Qdoba is the same way. I LOVE Qdoba and would love to know if they measure up at all.

  • Dani

    Here in NYC the Chipotle Chelsea location is known as the ‘secret Chipotle’ it has an actual chef who butchers and breaks down all of the meats and cook them on-site from scratch instead of having everything flown in after being sous vide cooked in Chicago. Also, it used to be true that some Virginia locations sourced their meat from Polyface Farms, who I’m sure we’re all familiar with.

  • Ellen

    Okay, I get that people need to know what’s in their food and you’re trying to get the message out that processed food and fast food contain icky ingredients.

    But why the vitriol? Are we supposed to be shocked, surprised and appalled that industrial, chain, fast-food is processed and highly artificial? How has this become a matter of “support and trust?” To me it comes off like a Kosher family getting all upset because the local barbecue house serves pulled pork.

    The reason industrial chain restaurants use processed ingredients is because there is no other way to make their business model work – they must acquire cheap ingredients, ship and store them for long periods, and produce identical results with minimal labor and skill. That is what they do, and you can’t do that with natural food.

    So why eat there at all? Someone who isn’t ready to make a complete lifestyle change, has to live with compromise and make the best choices available, or you pull up your socks and change the way you shop and eat. Chipotle is better than McDonalds. That doesn’t make it the same as eating out of your own garden. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

    • Mike

      Agree to a point. It’s all a matter of give and take. Obviously no restuarant or fast food place is going to be as healthy as cooking your own meal from scratch at home. I don’t expect any fast food place to serve me a “healthy” meal. Just don’t try and pass it off as one by claiming to be someting you are not.

      • Ellen

        Fair enough – deceptive advertising is an issue. But I think a larger problem is that a lot of people don’t know how food works, so they can’t understand how industrial food works. You just can’t expect to drive up to a place that serves food in to-go containers, with the same menu and ingredients year-round, expect to get a meal that looks and tastes exactly like the one you got two months ago, pay only slightly more than a junk-food joint, and think that you are dealing with local, natural, whole food in an eco-friendly sustainable business model. YOU JUST CAN’T DO THAT WITH LOCAL NATURAL FOOD. Even Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms has cut way back or stopped dealing with Chipotle’s – even though he gives them credit for trying – because they only wanted to buy certain parts of the animal, in a quantity and processed to a degree that made it a losing proposition for a sustanable farm.

    • Renee

      The reason for the vitriol, is because they are claiming to be “better” and “organic and local” and all of the other buzz words that get health conscious people excited. When, in reality, they’re just as bad as the other fast food competitors. Of course, first and foremost, they’re a business and need to create a profit. But, the very fact, if nothing else, that they make it SO hard to find their ingredients is just unforgivable. Even IF their food WAS 100% “real food”, I wouldn’t want to go there, because of the secrecy.

    • Tracy

      Excellent response, Ellen! I totally agree.

    • Jonny

      Mmm, now that’s appetizing, a woman with her head on straight. Be my valentine, Ellen. You’re absolutely right, trusting a corporation to have one’s best interest in mind is purely delusional.

      There is no trusting corporations that aim to profit from you by use of deception, and cutting costs with any means possible.

  • Yes, I would also love to see how Qdoba compares to these two restaurants – these three seem to be the most popular fast food burrito places!

  • Traci

    Oh, I am SO sad! I LOVE Moe’s! My kids do, too. And I always thought it was one of the more “healthy” options. Actually, I guess it still is, but – eeeeeew. Their food contains all of the things I try SO hard to avoid. Food Babe: have you reviewed Jason’s Deli?

  • Ashley

    Where I live, I have very limited access to local, organic food. I run into the following on labels very often, and see it above on the beef label from Moe’s: “less than 2% of the following:”

    Do you really think that if something we’re eating contains less than 2% of the ingredient in question that it will have such a harmful impact on our bodies? I tend to think not, but am curious what you have found in your research.

    • Cate

      the 2% thing certainly makes me less concerned. I would also like to know how that makes a difference. I guess it depends on whatever the dosage used in all the cited studies.

  • tori

    I’m curious as to how Freebirds would stack up against these two, as it is a similar style if restaurant…

  • Holly

    My husband and I did the same investigation into Moe’s and found it pretty easy to get their ingredient lists. It was the artificial colorings in nearly everything and all the hidden MSG which stopped us eating there.
    We live in Georgia where ‘Willys’ is another restaurant in the Moes/Chipotle style. They don’t claim to be healthy, but when we’ve asked them about their ingredients they have said everything is made fresh in store… I have pestered them for an ingredient list, but haven’t been able to get hold of one yet.
    Does anyone know anything about Willys?

  • Candace

    None of the ‘studies’ you present as science about the harms of GMOs have been published in international peer-reviewed scientific journals. All of the ‘data’ in these studies you mention are suspect. The National Academy of Science and the most reputable scientists in the US have not made statements against GMOS. You eat DNA in every bite of food and it doesn’t hurt you; yet in reports from your Institute of Responsible Technology state that eating modified DNA is harmful.

    May I suggest that next you review nutritional supplements and herbal remedies and find that they are not regulated by the FDA and may not contain even traces of [insert your favorite herb here].

    • Max

      Don Huber, professor emeritus of plant pathology at Purdue University, is an incredibly reputable scientist and he called glyphosate the “most abused chemical in the history of agriculture” and described GM crops as a “failed system.”

      The truth is that:

      1)If these animal studies were ever presented for a new drug application to the FDA, it would NEVER get approved.

      2) Warnings from FDA scientists prior to GMOs getting approved in the 1990s were completely ignored because the White House wanted to promote a pro-GMO agenda.

      3) The chemical and ag industries do not let outside experts examine their data.

      4) The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) stated that, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified (GM) food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. The AAEM has asked physicians to advise all patients to avoid GM foods.

      5) Of course many scientists haven’t spoken out against GMOs – because so many of them are “owned” by the ag and chemical industries. These are very powerful companies that can greatly influence research and publications. They care only about profits, not the health of the public.

      It is irrefutable that GMOs present tremendous health risks. Yet, given the huge profits at stake, there is a massive PR job at work to convince the American public that they are safe.

      Anyone with a shred of intellectual honesty and who truly knows something about health does not eat GMOs.

    • Eric

      Hello Candace,

      If GMOs and trans fats are so safe, I invite you to drink a nice big bottle of Round-up? Do we really need to go into the India farmers scenario here? didn’t think so… You can go back to your PR desk now at whatever BigAg or Chemical company you work for..

  • alanna

    Not shocking but sad. Next time I hit Chipotle I’ll probably go for a vegetarian salad. I knew those tortillas were too tasty to be true.

  • We used to go to Chipotle but had to give it up when my daughter and I developed a soy intolerance. It was impossible to get anything without soybean oil, as your report says.

    I don’t know what restaurant you are planning to investigate next, but I would love to see you look into Qdoba as I can eat one thing there–naked burrito bowl with pinto beans, shredded pork, salsa, and guacamole. I’d love to know what I am actually eating. :)

  • Marsha

    Wow! The one that gets me the most is that “Grass-Fed Steak”! What steak needs anything more than simple seasoning before it’s cooked?! I’ll stick with the steaks that are in my freezer! Raised by great friends in a beautiful pasture!

  • I think you should contact Jamie Oliver and work with him to make this information even more available to the public! seriously, this is SICKENING what they are doing to our food in this country! why do other countries ban stuff, but the U.S.A. continues to feed their people GARBAGE!!!!! I am soooooooooo mad!
    thanks for everything you are doing to open people’s eyes!

  • Lori B.

    Now THIS is the stuff that the new SHOULD be reporting on!!! I am soooo glad that there are people like you that care enough to really put it in people’s faces. Us Americans really do need it spelled out this clearly. I have been getting lazy at least once a week and eating out with our family. LAZY! Chipotle was one of our “go too’s” not any more. See what happens here is that, all of us who just read your article now know that we are literally feeding our kids poison and shortening their life. I will educated my kids on your findings when they get home from school. Then they will not feed their own kids this crap! Thank you again, I know it took a lot of time. :) You are loved!

  • Qdoba ingredients not hard at all to get on their website (on the second page of their ‘allergen info’ PDF)

  • Charlee Pensak

    I can say its a bit better than most reaturants. I only eat out with my kids when its a no choice we are away from home or out too late with no other choices which in a small town in So Cal our choices are very limited! Even shopping organic is a 25mi drive. But I wonder why they make it so hard to get the information? Any restaurant is willing to post all the dirty laundry why not chipotle? I have never heard of Moe’s the closest chipotle is 15mi away.

  • Thank you for this well researched and revealing post on the sad reality of restaurant meals and false marketing, even the ones considered “healthy.” It demonstrates the degree to which food has been altered and manipulated to appeal to the American palate and last longer on the shelf. They should be ashamed for having trans fats in their tortillas. That stuff is deadly.

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