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Stories in both the New York Times and the Washington Post this week seem to be making essentially the same point – that at least in some venues, healthier fast food seems to be catching on.

The Times notes that Let’s Be Frank, a three-unit hot dog stand chain in California, “is among a small but thriving segment of the fast-food world offering grass fed and other naturally raised meats to the masses. Others include Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., which operates more than 730 eateries in over 30 states, and Burgerville, which has 39 restaurants in Washington and Oregon.

“Those eateries and others are providing a new market for beef and pig ranchers around the country who eschew the widespread factory-farm model and instead raise animals the old-fashioned way in pastures and outdoor pens.”

According to the Times piece, there are compelling reasons to choose such fast food places over more traditional options: “A recent study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that intensive industrial livestock production has yielded antibiotic-resistant bacteria, degraded the environment and devastated rural communities by replacing farm and ranch jobs with poorly paying feedlot positions. By contrast, operations such as Hearst Ranch raise their animals without growth-promoting hormones or antibiotics, and don't confine their livestock to teeming feed lots.” Consumers are becoming aware of the chasm between these old-fashioned/newfangled agricultural operations and the industrial model – in part because of stories like the one in the Times - and are trying to make more healthful decisions.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that the market for organic fast food “in the Washington area are about to grow. Organic to Go, a Seattle company founded in 2004, said yesterday that it has purchased locally based High Noon's four cafes, as well as its catering operation, and plans to turn the lunch hot spots into places where office workers can flee their cubicles and devour a meatloaf sandwich made with organic beef.”

According to the Post story, “The company is not first to the D.C. market with quick, organic food. Last year, three Georgetown University graduates opened a restaurant called Sweetgreen, on M Street in Georgetown. Sweetgreen serves salads that are mostly organic in environmentally friendly surroundings. The packaging is biodegradable … Other chains popping up include Evos, a Tampa company with fast food outlets in several states offering soy burgers and air-baked fries. Gusto Grilled Organics' flagship restaurant is in midtown Manhattan and serves eat-in, takeout, or delivery -- steak sandwiches, empanadas, pizzas and more.”

KC's View:
While being assiduously anti-fast food, MNB has long lauded companies such as Chipotle and Burgerville for raising the bar on such products – they prove that a little time, a little care and some intelligent sourcing can turn out a better product, and that smart marketing can turn the company into a success story.

It will be interesting to see if a down economy has more of a negative effect on such chains than it does on the likes of more traditional – and less healthful – operations such as McDonald’s and Burger King. I hope it doesn’t….it seems to me that it is almost always worth a little bit more money to get food that tastes better and is better for you. But that’s not an opinion shared by everybody. (There are things in life to skimp on…but I’ve never thought that food and drink are among them. Rather eat less and eat better.)