Mental Illness as Expertise


Driving down 94, I was a little taken aback at the Chipotle billboard I saw. Normally, billboards about obsession with food that I see are from our friends at The Emily Program and are about getting help. This one seemed to be using food obsession to prove expertise and as a selling point.

The repetition in this ad seems to be an overt reference to one symptom of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: the repetition of thoughts or rituals. Eating disorders commonly co-occur with anxiety disorders, with OCD being the most common co-occurrence, and frequently people struggling with these disorders manifest ritual and compulsive behavior around food and eating. That means, for many people, compulsive behaviors (such as repetition) around food present a daily struggle. In Minnesota alone, at least 200,000 people (and 14 million nationally) struggle with eating disorders. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, like anxiety disorders, and idealizing symptoms of these disorders does not promote health or foster prevention and recovery. Obsessive behaviors can interfere with a person’s ability to function in their daily life, not to mention that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. These illnesses are not punchlines and they are not marketing tactics. Ignoring the reality of these disorders and folks who live with them is insensitive at best and dangerous at worst.

This ad seems not only to ignore the seriousness of disordered eating and compulsive behavior, but also to embody these symptoms as a claim of authority. We, the viewer of this ad, are meant to feel that because Chipotle (the company? the staff?) exhibit obsessive-compulsive symptoms, they are creating a superior product. Under their website’s “Ingredients Statement”, they say, “Great ingredients make great tasting food, which is why we’ll never stop working to improve each ingredient we prepare and serve.” Hey, that sounds like a lovely sentiment. Over here at the Foundation, we love great tasting food. However, “food with integrity” doesn’t come out of making light of mental illnesses and ignoring their very real consequences.

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