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

  • Wow, I had no idea, really. How can they say “100% grassfed beef” with all that other crap? Oh lord, we are in big trouble. Our food system is so out of whack it’s crazy! And scary!

    Thank you for uncovering this, I had no idea it was this bad. We don’t go out to eat that often, but sometimes we do go to Chipotle, thinking it is better than other restaurants. It’s really just the same, just a lot of marketing white washing.

    It just proves that any large scale food item is going to be compromised. It’s impossible to feed millions of people from one source like that and not have to cut corners. :(

  • [...] all started when health food blogger “Food Babe” Vani Hari tried to find out from Chipotle what ingredients specifically are used in their food. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get a straight answer. She [...]

  • laura

    I would LOVE to see you investigate Jamba Juice! Their styrofoam cups and paper bags proudly state “NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP”- but the main ingredient in MANY of their drinks is sherbet- which has HFCS. Even sneakier- many of their drinks have corn- which is not a beverage. I emailed them for ingredient lists (for a friend with a corn allergy)- and they were unbelievably vague in their response.

    Here is their reply: Hello laura,

    Thank you for taking the time to contact Jamba Juice. Some of our products do contain corn and/or corn based ingredients. The only line of smoothies that does not contain any corn or corn based ingredients are our All Fruit Smoothies. There are five delicious choices to pick from, including one of our best selling drinks, Strawberry Whirl! However, if you would like to know of the ingredients to a specific drink, please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

    Jamba Juice
    Guest Services
    1-866-4RFRUIT ( 1-866-473-7848 )

  • This is really disturbing. Have you contacted Chipotle for a response as to why they are using GMO corn and soy when they claim to serve “food with integrity”and specifically bash other GMOs (RBGH) all over their packaging and advertising materials? Have you considered starting a petition on specifically for Chipotle and this issue? I am tempted to do so, but it makes sense for you to do it since you have all of the pertinent information and did the research. I think especially in light of the fact that Chipotle claims to serve healthful and humane food, it would be a good petition and might serve to bring about changes.

  • JuliaG

    Gosh, I guess I’ve gotten very cynical and wary. I’m actually kind of pleased with how well Chipotle comes out in the end ;). I have two kids with severe food allergies and so I’m already very accustomed to the run-around that companies give. Heck, try to get a single bit of info out of Heinz on their ketchup ingredients! Even if you say it’s a life threatening allergy they won’t tell you if there mustard in it, for example. I do wonder if you aren’t being a tiny bit harsh. It can be hard for restaurants to give infos since their distributors and suppliers are constantly changing. I mean, if you are ready labels every single time you buy a product you will notice that it changes over the course of time. I see changes in types of oils used in crackers…probably depending on what’s cheapest and most available at different times. It gets tough with things like tortillas that are themselves made up of several ingredients that are continually changing. We eat out some, but rarely. Heck, it’s really not that hard to make your own flour and corn tortillas…we do it with some frequency.

  • raechel alvis

    i’m so grossed out right now, thanks for the info. i mostly eat at home anyway, though. i find everytime i eat out, even at gluten free restaurants, i still have an unfortunate bathroom experience. my digestive system just prefers homecooking!

  • Andrew

    I’d like to point out that propylene glycol is generally non-toxic in moderate quantities and I believe you are mistakingly confusing it with ethylene glycol which is indeed highly toxic. Not that I advocate for or agree with either being added into food, but I thought I would point out this slight discrepancy.

  • Rich P

    Thank you for this valuable research. Chipotle comes out ahead and I suppose both are better than other “faster-food” options. I am very disappointed to see the bad news about Moe’s grass fed steak. This is a major mistake by them. I hope they eliminate the GMO ingredients and especially the MSG.

  • Cristin

    Could you give me the source you used for information regarding eating meat from animals fed GMO corn/soy? I am unable to find any research regarding whether or not GMOs are transferred through meat consumption.

  • very nice article thanks for the admin of the post

  • Thanks for the information and all the time you invested for the research. It is sad that they do not publish what is truly in their food. Definitely a sign they have ingredients that contradict their marketing slogans. I shared this post on my Weekend Wanderings post.

  • Megan

    I am all for healthy and all natural diets. However, working and being raised in the fresh meat/grains industry, do you know there are not enough non-GMO feeds on this planet to support any of these chains. In return, if a chain would even try to manage their purchasing based off of just this one standard prices would be driven up nearly 50%. Do you also know, that nearly 30%, possibly even more, of all GMO free labeled feed is also contaminated by cross pollination of GMO fields? Unless the USA does something completely radical about our growing/crop standards, there is not a single chance you will find any restuarant or grocery store chain that can support a non GMO buying pattern. Just some “food” for thought.

  • Krista

    Chipotle does have a page of ingredients and of allergy information. Not sure if they had this when you wrote the article but it is on their site.

  • Kimi

    You would think you would be able to trust these vendors but we are in a time of big business were all they care about is making that buck spending the least amount of money as possible and lying/ hiding important information from the consumers. After seeing this I am quite disappointed and will definitely research for myself.

  • J.

    What is most disturbing about this article is not that a restaurant doesn’t want to give away their ingredients or cooking methods, but how angry the author is.

    The solution is simple: just dont eat at the establishment if you require a complete breakdown of how their food is made. No one forces you to eat there!

    The article is also misleading. Hydrogenated oils are not necessarily genetically modified. I am not saying hydrogenated oils are healthy, but Chipotle DOES list their nutritional facts and so one can look at the amount of fat (un, sat, and trans) in their product. (Aside from Sour Cream, the highest product has only 3.5 grams of saturated fat).

    Furthermore, Chipotle products are also Trans Fat free, yet Hydrogenation is used to create Trans fat. Something doesnt add up.

    That’s not to say that the oils used are GMO free, they certainly could have been made from modified seeds.

    But then again GMOs drastically reduce the cost of food and help provide food to the world’s population. There is a give and a take. If you are writing on this blog, you have enough money to decide what you eat.

    If one orders correctly, they can get a very healthy meal at chipotle with the only real negative the level of sodium.

    Example: 49g protein, 86g carbs, 22g Fiber, only 3 grams saturated fat! Those ratios are incredible for any restaurant, or any meal for that matter. In fact, if one works out, this would be a wonderful post-workout meal to build muscle and provide energy to the body.

    I dont have any relationship to Chipotle, but I am defending them because they have dont nothing wrong. They dont force anyone to eat their food. They are a MUCH better alternative to almost any restaurant and I’d bet a better alternative to most people’s kitchen. The one problem is the level of sodium.

  • Whatever

    Why does everyone get all bent out of shape when a restaurant does not serve the most healthy of choices? If you want to know everything that goes into your food, make it yourself. I wouldn’t believe a restaurant’s ingredients if they were listed or not, but then again, I don’t really care. As I consume in moderation, I am not in danger of chemical warfare from an occassional meal at any food chain.

  • Nicole

    My family and I went to Moe’s yesterday when we were at a loss of finding a restaurant open on a holiday in a small town. (We were hoping for a local Mediterranean place that offers lots of fresh goodies). Anyhow, I asked them for an ingredient list and they didn’t understand my request. I said, “You know, the list of what is in your food.” Thinking, how could what I asked not make sense. The gal went around asking all the workers and nobody had a clue until finally the ‘cook’ came out and she said, “There are no ingredients, I make everything. Those tomatoes, I cut them and the salsa, I cut the onions in that too.” Oh boy. I was shocked at the lack of knowledge even the workers had. I’m sure she did cut the produce (which are ingredients by the way) but tortillas don’t grow on trees. So I went to to see if she had done any research on Moe’s and this is where I landed. Of course I knew it wasn’t as simple as “I make everything”. I felt bad for the employees who are left in the dark just as much as the consumer.

    Thank you for your hard work so that I can make educated choices on what to feed myself and my family.

  • Crazy… I recently gave up all sources of sugar except fruit and honey, and it’s been eye opening in the extreme to try to find out if there is sugar or HFCS in my food. The answer is generally, “If you didn’t make it from raw ingredients yourself, probably.” which is sad. We have tried to eat organic and non GMO for years, but I’m finding so much misinformation and mis labeling out there on that one, it’s nuts. Used to be a big Chipotle fan. Had no idea. Not sure where we’ll get our burrito fix from now!

  • Vicky

    good info but you forgot to bold the word sugar—it is also GMO

  • Shut up

    WTF, if you don’t like whats in the food, go live in a hole and stop complaining

  • mary

    True, everyone has the right to eat where and what they want but by the same token everyone has the right to know what they are eating and then chose. Then again, as long as people are eating food that is basically poison those places will continue to make it poison but if everyone stopped eating it and buying it the choice those places that feed poison to kids who have no say and adults that are destoying their DNA and doing damage to future generations of what we are known as humans because they are ignorant of those choices, those places would change. The dollar talks and is handed over by the consummer. Consummer’s need to get smart and that is what this website is attempting to do, educate the consummer. If you don’t want to get smart about your food then go to another website such as MCDonalds or Burger King or many millions who will promote their poison.

  • Keith

    Due to this review I am going to recommend all my friends eat at Moe’s and Chipotle.

  • Marina

    Moe’s has been trying to contact you in regards to this chart, as they have updated several things, making your information invalid now.

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