Chipotle’s viral video tugs at the heart strings, but is it all talk?

National chain Chipotle, which has a downtown Iowa City location, has taken the fast food — and advertising — industry by storm with an extremely emotional short film that frames their brand as a leading advocate of sustainability and ethical farming.

The video (featuring Fiona Apple’s moving rendition of “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) announces not an altering of Chipotle’s practices, but rather the upcoming release of a new Chipotle … iOS game. So, what kind of game is Chipotle playing? Are they really out to feed the world ethically-raised, locally-grown burritos, or just tug on our heartstrings? Whatever their goals, they’ve gotten the world’s attention: A single Gawker post about the video now has more than 250,000 “likes.”

It’s difficult to fault a fast-food chain for using their marketing dollars to raise awareness about the horrors of factory farming — and whose motto is “Food with Integrity” — but as one Gawker commenter noted, if they really want a better world where more people can eat real unprocessed food, they should drop beef altogether.

Lest we forget, anyone who drives down Interstate 380 is now graced with the presence of an enormous McDonalds billboard thanking Iowa farmers for providing them with their “great” food. Um, seriously?

As more and more marketers jump on the “ethical food” bandwagon, labels like “organic” or everyone’s favorite, “natural,” are less and less reliable, and it’s becoming more and more difficult for consumers to discern fact from fiction. After all, Naked Juice (a subsidiary of PepsiCo, whose product is now facing litigation for falsely representing itself as organic) now donates “1 lb. worth of fresh produce to underserved communities*” every time you click their online ads. Wonder what that asterisk means? Me too. Turns out it means “ The monetary equivalent of fruits and vegetables will be donated.“ Thanks for throwing money* at the problem, Naked Juice.

*A maximum of $86,000

Panera also recently launched an interactive web page that touts their hormone-free chickens and free-range eggs, a move that is by all accounts is praise-worthy. As the trend continues to spread, though, there will be plenty of room for advocates, skeptics, environmentalists and economists to opine on the right approach to solving global issues of hunger and environmental strife. For today, I’m just going to listen to Fiona Apple, and maybe cry a little.

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