The video « Back to the Start » was created in 2011 to promote the « Chipotle Cultivate Foundation », an initiative launched by the Mexican restaurant chain Chipotle, dedicated to supporting family farming, sustainable agriculture and culinary education in the United States. It was realized by Nexus, a London-based film and interactive media company, and features an interpretation of Coldplay’s song « The Scientist » by the American singer Willie Nelson.
« Back to the Start » is organized in two parts. The first part of the clip displays the progressive path towards the industrialization of meat production, with explicit signs of the ills brought about by the excessive commodification of farmed animals. The viewer powerlessly witnesses the creation of the whole « factory farming » production chain, as grain silos, factories and highways unfold on the background. All the while, the pigs, at first free and happily gamboling on fields of green grass, are progressively captured into a seemingly unstoppable and implacable mechanical movement, by which they end up processed and sent to trucks for distribution. As nature gets tamed and the urban civilization expands, all life fades away, with bright colors slowly turning to asphalt grey.
The second part of the video starts with a farmer walking on the outside; it’s cold and snowy. He realizes how industrial farming – the antibiotics pills, the jam-packed sheds, and the polluted environment that comes with it – have perverted all that stands around him. So, he decides to « go back to the start » (as providentially announced by Willie Nelson at 1:29) and he breaks down the barriers that used to stand between him and the animals – and by extent, between him and nature. A new, virtuous cycle of production begins, and the video ends up – no big surprise – on an spotless white chipotle minivan embarking the fruits of the new farmer’s heaven.
An interesting element of this campaign is that it directly calls the viewer’s attention on the environmental impact of factory farming, less discussed and present to mind than the overwhelming moral question of animal cruelty and dehumanization. It is known that factory farming makes a 30% higher contribution to the emission of greenhouse gases than transportation globally; factory farming is also a major source of land, water and air pollution. The aftermath of industrial production on the environment is clearly depicted in the video when, for instance, we see the pollution smokes created by factories, or the toxic industrial waste being rejected into and subsequently contaminating clear waterways. On the other hand, family farming is associated with the traditional imagery of sustainability, when we for instance see wind turbines popping up on the distant hills (1:40). The video works on visual codification opposing green to grey, thereby separating what is sustainable from what is not, and simultaneously inscribing family farming into a a set of practices that are known to be respectful of the environment.
What makes this video great is both its graphic performance and originality – the video was realized using traditional stop frame model animation techniques – and the Coldplay song interpreted by singer Willie Nelson, known for his engagement along family farming and to sustainable modes of meat production. The participation of Willie Nelson brings leadership to the campaign, as well as a sense a broader connectedness to traditional american values that I believe the artist embodies quite well. What makes « Back to the Start » so compelling is that, while appealing to virtually everyone – except maybe for a few anti-corporate cynics, the video also calls back to the deeper American narrative of pioneering, of going back to a state of justice and respect towards nature that may once have animated the first settlers on the New Continent. Hence, the powerful, emotional narrative at play behind this video is not only that of cruel animal treatment, or jeopardized ecology: it is also that of a threatened sense of identity.