Why Can't We Forgive Chipotle?

When I was in college, Chipotle enjoyed our campus' complete devotion. Friends and I texted each other to plan burrito missions, and Chipotle coupon giveaways were enough to boost attendance at home basketball games.

But no more. CNBC reports that Chipotle's reputation hasn't recovered since its 2015 food-safety stumbles, when hundreds of customers fell ill after eating E.coli-infected food. Shares of Chipotle stock fell 4 percent yesterday after an analysis conducted by UBS's Evidence Lab found that customer trust in the chain is lower than it was even during the 2015 crisis. How does a once-beloved brand fall so far?

We Americans generally have the collective memory span of goldfish. We've seemingly brushed aside Mel Gibson's anti-Semetic rants—someone's allowing him to make a Passion of the Christ sequel, which I have major questions about. And George W. Bush—once a bumbling laughing stock blamed for an unpopular war—is now enjoying a figurative noogie from America because he made some nice paintings.

Chipotle, however, seemingly cannot—or has not yet—win us back. According to a UBS analyst quoted by CNBC: "37 percent of the more than 1,600 customers polled online by UBS said they ate Chipotle less frequently because of food-safety concerns."

It's ironic, considering Chipotle defines itself as a brand committed to transparent sourcing, better ingredients, and food assembled in front of you. It was the first chain to voluntarily disclose GMOs in its food in 2013, and has since switched entirely to non-GMO ingredients. It also sources meat from farms that pasture-raise animals and don't use added hormones or non-therapeutic antibiotics. And they manage to make us tear up to a cartoon (see below) for the first time since the opening sequence to Up.

Perhaps it's this dichotomy—the wholesome branding combined with widespread food-safety lapses that closed dozens of stores—that's turned consumers off. Americans can turn a blind eye to racism and ineptitude, but not fast-food hypocrisy.