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

  • Patrick Fellows

    Great article. I own a small salad restaurant in Baton Rouge, LA and we are doing everything we can to make our recipe GMO and preservative free. It can be a challenge when sourcing ingredients as great ingredients are almost twice as much. We continue to fight the good fight though!


  • Another great article. I am a fan of informed choices. As a mom of several young children having home cooked, organic fresh meals 365 days a year is impossible. But it is nice to have places to go that are slightly better than others. However, my children tend to prefer Moe’s but after this looks like I need to sway them a little bit :) When I choose to eat out with my family I recognize that no where is going to serve them a meal that is as healthy and nutrient rich as it would be if I prepared it, but sometimes there just isn’t a choice.

    Question for you: Are there places that you DO eat out? Here in Atlanta we love R. Thomas, but that is almost an hour away and not feasible for us on a regular basis. I would love to hear if there are places that you do feel offer good food for those eating out.

  • while I appreciate all the work gone into this article, you have to say that it is still considered “fast food” and no one in their right mind is/should eat there everyday anyway…you can probably say the same things about 80% of the stuff in the grocery stores too right?? At least Chipotle and Moes are trying;some fast food joints aren’t even doing that! I still think they have integrity; I mean, who’s perfect in the world of fast food?

  • Laura

    While i find your articles interesting, you lost me on this one. When you began to rant about how slow they were in their responses and how hesitant they were to give out their ingrediant lists (they could be worried that you were trying to copy their food. How did they know that you weren’t really trying to rip them off?), I was turned off. Then the article turned into a rant on GMOs, not information about the foods in question.
    Not every resturant can comform to “100 per cent organic, perfect food.” Sadly, that food is expensive and people wouldn’t be able to afford to eat at those resturants. Also, I wonder what you expect from fast food joints. You seem shocked when some of these places (not thinking of Chiplote or Moe’s but others you have profiled) are high in fat or filled with preservatives. It’s fast food- everyone knows it is not going to be addtive or preservative free!
    FoodBabe, you have the real chance to have a good following and make some changes. You could suggest real, practical changes. (Ie, suggest that Chipolte find a way to disclose the origins of their food without making it easy for people to copy their recipes, find inexpensive ways to replace GMOs without jacking up the cost of food, etc) However, your sanctimonious tone is a real turn off for some readers (me) and I don’t want to read your articles because of it.

  • Brady

    FOOD BABE MOJO LOST. I think the Food Babe has has lost her mojo. From everything I know about Moe’s (or even Chipotle), the information here is fabricated. It appears just because someone did not answer the phone when you called, that none of their claims is true. I know for a fact that the claims of these brands are true (except maybe organic at 100% Chipotle locations-this is virtually impossible). It is unfortunate that a person like this can claim anything they want just to make her followers think they are actually doing something of value. Well, this is a disservice to her readers and these restaurants owners. Very shoddy investigation.

  • Jessica H

    Thanks for posting this report-it’s eye-opening to say the least.

  • FoodBabe-thanks for sharing the info about GMOs. I’m disappointed that chipotles uses gmo soy, I knew that already but it’s a bummer. My daughter is allergic to GMO soy, not the organic stuff though. Sigh. A lot of people think the GMO debate is an alarmist rant-that’s too bad because they are content to eat whatever is manufactured and then not make the connection with poor health 10 years down the road. There is a lot of money in GMOs and a lot of corruption within the government. We have an organic, local, taco place in OK and it’s delicious. I think the bigger a restaurant becomes (with locations) the harder it becomes to value clean food ingredients.

  • Sheril C

    ewwww! I’m so glad you did this one. Chipotle is the one that I had assumed was ‘better’ of any widespread chains I had heard of. I don’t actually eat there because I am allergic to beans and I hate their rice with the overpowering cilantro all through it, but I would have let my kids go anytime and they love it. Luckily, simply because we choose to eat at home most of the time, they are not in the habit of getting that food very often!

    Now the only place left that I need to check into more is my personal splurge place: Jason’s Deli. I don’t know how large they are, but ever since we got one near my house, I have indulged occasionally.

    • Sheril C

      Just to clarify GMOs are a big deal in my personal decision making. MSG is as well, so if there were a Moe’s in my area they would never get my business.

      Also, the willingness to post ingredients to anyone and everyone vs. the decision to make it difficult on those who ask for the ingredient information is the thing that makes me the most angry with restaurants in this type of situation. I know plenty about how fast food works. I have zero need to have that explained to me by those who just don’t like to feel the boat being rocked and have to find some way to discredit those who care about healthy food enough to get educated and make decisions based on what they learn.

      There is nothing wrong with educating yourself. And there is nothing wrong with making wise decisions based on real information. On the contrary, it is a wiser way to live your life. And any company that engages in false advertising or refuses me the information I need will not get my business. And yes, I might even get angry in the process, while they give me the run around or when I catch them in a lie. I make no apologies for that. Not now. Not ever.

  • Alex

    While I agree with your analysis of the ingredients – I’m a little disappointed that you would take such a harsh stance against two companies trying to break the “fast food mold”. For instance, calling Chipotle the “lesser of two evils” strikes me as doomday-ish. It is disheartening to see that they use partially hydrogenated oils, but I don’t know how to verify that without having access to more structured analytical data.

    I guess I’m approaching this from a realist perspective. I don’t know much about Moe’s so I will only speak to my opinions and feelings on Chiptole. A national chain that is striving to offer sustainable, humane, and healthy ingredients in all or most of their foods is simply fantastic. It is unrealistic for me to expect that a restaurant chain is going to surface that meets my stringent standards for what food should really represent.

  • Candice

    Laura-exactly what I was thinking. Food babe is a little too much.I love Lisa and the good information and great recipes she shares with us. . I try very hard as stay at home mom of a one year old to give our family has much real food as possible. But sometimes as we travel 300 + miles to visit the in-laws and we run out of my homemade road trip food and need to choose the next best thing that is available. Which is Chipotle when it is available. I commend Chipotle for at least trying to do better because they believe in it, not just because it is a fad! So I think we really need to encourage fast food restaurants ( like Chipotle)who are at least trying and are still MUCH better for us then the other fast food joints( like McDonalds).

  • ellen

    Thanks for the hard work Food Babe! I really appreciate that you ask tough questions and don’t fear finding out the answers.

    As for all the people saying that Food Babe is being “too harsh” with a “negative attitude,” we all need to understand how serious and dire some of the consequences of our industrial eating habits are. The degradation of the environment and the health of our society will not be fixed simply with “moderation” and “making an effort.” (And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not super radical in my efforts, though I’m getting there.) There MUST be some stark changes in the landscape of growing and eating food, and “trying” on the part of massive corporations is just not good enough.

    Food Babe may take a stance our society is not comfortable with, but as one comment pointed out: “Reality bites.” Let’s demand real change from the industry that’s perpetuating big problems in our country/world.

  • Dawn

    This is the exact reason why it’s important to frequent and support local mom and pop eateries. No chain restaurant is going to be completely clean with their food there has to be a consistency of product in each of their restaurants. If you have a steak in New York from a chain restaurant, it is going to have to taste exactly the same way in LA.

  • [...] read an article recently about my favorite restaurant- Chipotle. Of course, I don’t believe everything I read [...]

  • Jessica

    Hi Vani!

    Do you have a Qdoba where you are? They have all of their ingredients listed right on their website, right down to the polysorbate 80 used in their chicken seasoning.

    I think their food is delicious (if perhaps not quite as “whole” as one would like), and they are never as crowded as Chipotle. Might be something to look into for a comparison to Chipotle and/or Moe’s.

  • DK

    I used to work with Chipotle restaurants in a warehouse. I can vouch that ALL meats, and vegetables, and everything else edible ARE organic. If the supplier tried to send non-organic meat sometimes, we would always send it back. Compared to what is out there, Chipotle offers WAY better food. They also teamed up with Jamie Oliver (an advocate for helping people choose to eat healthier and live healthier lives) a few years ago to dress as a processed food, promoting Chipotle due to its healthy contents and non-processed anything. I took pride in my job just for those reasons.

    • Anon

      Thank you for the different perspective! I like Chipotle and will continue to eat there occasionally. I think it’s good to support a company that is at least trying. Besides everyone knows you never know 100% of what goes into your food unless you make it yourself. However I would like the government to do something about GMO’s. Blame them not the restaurant. The government makes it hard for people to eat healthy. We can all only do our best.

  • Pregnant Mama

    I’m pregnant and now I’m craving Mexican even more. Thank you very much. From my local sit down restaurant though.

    The good thing about living in a small town…No access to fast food. At all. We never make a special trip just for fast food. Or any food.

    All I can think about is a chicken taco. Tomorrow I will have one or two. And queso dip. And maybe guacamole.

    There was a point to this article but it was lost on me. All I can see is chicken tacos now.

  • Vani

    I’m the executive chef for Moe’s and unfortunately you didn’t receive this information from me. I’d love to talk with you and really give you all the facts. I can assure you we are committed to serving quality ingredients and we work to improve them everyday. Please contact me at your earliest convenience.

    • Hi Dan – I will contact you via email. I received the list of ingredients from the headquarters via a woman named Ashlea Turner. I also verified the list at 2 different Moes location with the employees reading the ingredients off the boxes.

      I look forward to learning more and talking with you.


  • regina

    Not surprising at all. I know chipotle douses almost everything, including rice, with GMO-soy.


  • Sydney

    Unbelievable that nutrition facts are required by law but finding out what is actually in the food is like pulling teeth. It’s scary how so many people eat “food” every day without even knowing what they are even consuming or where it came from. I guess that is what the industry wants.

    On a completely different subject, I also recently heard that some schools are banning whole milk. There is a problem when a natural, whole food is banned and chemical-laden chicken nuggets double-fried in refined oil are deemed okay. Sigh.

    • Sheril

      amen to that. When my son was in public school I could never trust the school food at all, but we can always hope for and work towards something better.

  • sniperdoc

    Thanks… Moe’s was a favorite place to eat for both my wife and I. This just ruined it. If they say No MSG’s, and they clearly have them, it is called false advertising and they should be taken to court in a major class action law suite.

  • Kim

    I read your article and the subsequent follow-up posts. I am ALWAYS surprised at how riled up people get about food – on both sides of the fence. When I consider this particular chasm, it seems that there are people who consider scientifically engineered “food” as adequate and safe nutrition, and would require hard science to convince them of any dangers (good luck funding the research on that), and others who prefer old-school, nature-created food that requires no proof that it is harmless. I, for one, would prefer to err on the side of caution, even if all I have to go on is common sense and instinct.

  • Reanna

    Food Babe – your writing style is fresh, honest, and succinct. Please, please, please do not change how you communicate. Tough love is the only way to get important messages out there, and people don’t like to learn their schemas have been debunked. Finding Lisa’s 100 Days site has changed my life. As the months have gone by with me making more and more food from scratch and buying better ingredients my body has changed significantly. My 30-something adult acne – GONE!!! Losing weight, more energy, post-back surgery recovery rapidly increased to where I am dancing like crazy when I thought those days were done. And the biggest thing: I can not eat out any more because the food Makes. Me. Sick. Truly. I cannot eat restaurant food any more! By cutting all that shit out of my diet – MSG and it’s evil counter-parts, dyes, additives, etc. I have taught my body, inadvertently, to reject harmful faux food.

    The nut allergy started the journey but people like you and Lisa give me the encouragement and motivation to keep at it. And my fourteen year old son is right on board! I don’t understand people who blindly go about their lives without stopping to think about what they are doing. Hooray for questions!

    Also, until I read these blogs I’d never heard of Chick-Fil-A, Chipotle, or Moe’s. Then the whole stupid Chick-Fil-A thing blew up in the news and I just had to roll my eyes. Good grief.

    Anyway, I’ve rearranged my budget to allow me more money for food by eliminating things I really don’t need to be spending money on. No Netflix, no cell phone plan, no cable bill, no credit cards. I have much more freedom to pick out the foods I need to keep my son and me healthy, and I thank you for the part you played.

    Please, Sisters, continue to rock this Food Revolution!!!


  • me

    What about qudoba and salsarita?

  • [...] Americans Are Going for a Walk  Chipotle vs. Moe’s – Which is Healthier? Let’s Connect! Like me [...]

  • Brooke

    So… did you manage to actually find some of Chipotle’s ingredients? I’d like to be able to make my own choices and would actually find this helpful. I like the idea of the article and was excited to see what was actually in the food, but didn’t really find the information helpful. I think people are pretty much aware of the arguments against GMOs, hydrogenated oils, etc. If you could post a list of the information you received, that would be most helpful.
    I do agree with some of the prior comments- if you eat at a restaurant, ever, you are probably consuming something you shouldn’t/wouldn’t at home. For those of us who have decided to eat out on occasion, it’s about making better choices, not perfect ones. I’d rather eat Chipotle than some of the other garbage out there. Here, they now offer brown rice. I see them smash avocados. Good luck finding that elsewhere. Even our local “organic” focused restaurant uses white flour, oils we wouldn’t use at home, sugar, etc. Our family realizes we are a little “food crazy” and might need to be a bit flexible if we decide to eat out.

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