When I heard that Chipotle had released preconfigured vegan and vegetarian bowls to offer customers meat-free alternatives (press-release language!), I wondered if I could finally enjoy the flavors of Chipotle without the gut-rupturing aftereffects.

So here I was, back in front my local Chipotles sofrito-slinger, ordering one each of their new plant-powered bowls.

I pick my rice, my beans, and then the requisite sofritos (spicy-smoky tofu crumbles, for the uninitiated) automatically pile on top.

I select my salsa, add lettuce, and then the employee asks if I want sour cream or cheese, which might offend me if I were vegan, but then I realize that he has about as much of a clue as I do regarding what the hell actually makes a Chipotle Vegan or Vegetarian Lifestyle Bowl, and then I just say no thank you.

The tab is $15, which I briefly consider as slightly steep given that I basically ordered helpings of glorified rice and beans (tofu is, after all, made from soybeans), but Im hungry and slightly confused so I sit down.

Poking my plastic fork through each mound of food, I cant help feeling conned. Or, more appropriately, like Ive been Taco-Bell-ed. Its an old joke: Taco Bells Five Ingredients Combined In Totally New Way .

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Chipotle's New Lifestyle Bowls Aren't Really New

Im confused because theres nothing new about Chipotles new vegan and vegetarian Lifestyle Bowls. No new flavors. No new ingredients. And, as I look around, theres not even any new fanfare.

Do you remember in the early 2000s when McDonalds added bacon to its menu? There were commercials. There were in-store promotions. There were banners unfurled. It was as Ronald himself had discovered the pork product and had decided to share the blessing with the world in grand fashion.

I looked around Chipotle and couldnt even find mention of the new bowls.

I ate half of each meal, left the restaurant, waddled through the parking lot (the Chi-bloat-le effect still present), and contacted a man whom I hoped would help me sort through the perplexity of my experience: Aaron Allen, of Aaron Allen & Associates , a global restaurant consulting and marketing firm.

Aaron, why do I feel like Ive been duped in some way? Like Ive been sold something different' that is actually very much the same, I ask him, the underwhelming taste of those glorified rice and beans still disappointing to my palate.

Allen tells me that Im warranted in feeling this way.

Chipotles new CEO Brian Niccoli, came from Taco Bell, where recycling and repackaging ingredients was the norm. From a scale and execution standpoint, Chipotle doesnt have to bring in any new equipment or teach its employees any new complex procedures. This approached worked for Taco Bell, to an extent, so why wouldnt it work for Chipotle?

My synapses fire. Connections form. Im Neo beginning to learn how The Matrix works. I push forward. Aaron, why now? Why Lifestyle Bowls?

Allen explains that there are two tectonic plates moving in the world of food.

One, more people are open to the idea of eating less meat. Maybe its for their health, maybe its for the planets health, maybe its both.

Two, brands like Chipotle have found that they can find success riding on the recognition and enthusiasm of and for popular new diets, despite whether or not these diets are actually healthy for you.

Theres a halo effect, Allen says, everyone in the restaurant industry is looking for a way to say healthy (because if you label a food as such, no one will buy it), and diet is a negative word.

This is why other restaurants like Panera use the word clean. In Chipotles case, lifestyle offers a similar misdirect, both to imply that a product is good for you and connected to individual market segments that live according to a set of food rules (Paleo, Keto, Whole30, blah blah blah).

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Chipotle's New Lifestyle Bowls Aren't Really New

My third eye opens. Im being re-programmed. I know Kung Fu. I ask one last question, almost afraid of what Ill find. Aaron, why didnt I see any kind of signage at Chipotle about these new bowls? There wasnt even a mention of them on the menu.

Allen goes on to detail that Chipotle likely doesnt have to put up any in-store advertising, because theyve already pulled you into the store via advertising.

Chipotle probably knows, through data-mining, that youre living Paleo , in your third week of Keto , or barely surviving Whole30 . And maybe they know that you're vegan or vegetarian and if, in fact, they do, they may mention to you, through very targeted advertising, that they have a new Lifestyle Bowl you will enjoy very much.

Allen begins talking about neuro-marketing and A.I. and APIs, but Im only half listening because Im now understanding where this wild rabbit hole of Chipotles Lifestyle Bowls has taken me: Smart brand marketing now happens long before you ever set foot in a restaurant-and you might not even be aware you're being manipulated by that marketing.

I didnt know about Chipotles vegan and vegetarian Lifestyle Bowls until I read the press release because Im not vegan or vegetarian. Theres no signage because the signage is all around me and unseen all at once. Chipotle's Vegan Lifestyle Bowl isn't sold to me because I probably wouldn't buy it.

That feeling sits with me after I get off the phone with Allen, and somehow I feel slightly more queasy than I did in the Chipotle.

I now have the knowledge to dodge whatever bullets Agent Smith fires my way, but what if I'm too sluggish from another trip to Chi-bloat-le to avoid the target I'm unaware is on my back?