A few Thursday mornings ago, I was hung over with nowhere I needed to be, so I schlepped to my local Chipotle to cop a burrito bowl and a soft drink a size so large it would make Michael Bloomberg shit his pants and start weeping.
Initially, I did not give the newly-decorated cup they handed me a second thought. It was probably just some rebranding thing to make them look more artsy or hip, but while I was filling my cup I saw a familiar name: Jonathan Safran Foer. The man who wrote Everything Is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Eating Animals. Foer is one of the most talented writers alive.
I discovered that Foer had written a short story or essay (or something—it’s kind of a weird piece) that appeared on the cup. I was intrigued by this, because it struck me at the surface as an awesome thing to have happen, but I was also confused on account of Foer’s passion for vegetarianism that is so strong he wrote an entire book about it. He didn’t seem like the kind of dude who would be selling out for Chipotle.
Using my phone to Google “Foer + Chipotle + Writing + Burrito,” I found a Vanity Fair story that explains the initiative, which was thought up by Foer one day when he was in a Chipotle, eating a burrito all alone, much as I was as I researched this new marketing campaign. Foer had neglected to bring a book or magazine with him, and he didn’t own a smart phone at the time. (Foer has spoken before about his aversion to the devices.)
The burrito itself was not enough to hold his attention.
“I really just wanted to die with frustration,” Foer told the magazine. I really hope he was hyperbolizing, because that’s super melodramatic.
So Foer contacted Chipotle’s CEO and spearheaded the editorial aspect of the “Cultivating Thought” campaign. Foer enlisted fellow writers Malcolm Gladwell, Toni Morrison, George Saunders, and Michael Lewis.
I was totally on board with the idea at face value, and I still am, but that’s the extent to which I’ll appreciate it.
It’s cool that big-name authors are writing some stuff we can read while we nosh on our burritos. It’s an interesting concept—one that I wish I had thought of and had the wherewithal to set into motion. I’ll read those cups without any qualms whatsoever.
But I wish Foer hadn’t tried to attach some sort of deeper meaning to his decision to do this. Writing copy for cups doesn’t make you a social hero. Not everything has to have a deeper meaning, you know.
I submit this quote from the Vanity Fair story:
“I mean, I wouldn’t have done it if it was for another company like a McDonald’s, but what interested me is 800,000 Americans of extremely diverse background having access to good writing. A lot of these people don’t have access to libraries, or bookstores. Something felt very democratic and good about this.”
Firstly, Chipotle is not very different from McDonald’s. (In fact, the former used to be owned by the latter.) Except that Chipotle is less prevalent and much more expensive. If you want to write stuff so that Americans of diverse backgrounds who don’t have access to libraries or bookstores are going to see it, then you should write on McDonald’s packaging. Because that’s where the impoverished people go. It’s affordable even if you’re on the dole. Chipotle doesn’t have a dollar menu, son. Most college students can’t even afford to eat there more than once a month.
The people who are too poor to purchase a book from time to time—or too disinterested in education to seek out a library—are not the people you will see in Chipotle. The only way they’re coming across the writing on the cups is if they dig one out of the trash.
Furthermore, any place that is urban or suburban enough to include a Chipotle is also privileged enough to have a library somewhere within the vicinity. And the cost of a library membership? FREE. Has Foer not seen Matilda? I live in Bushwick, an area rife with government-funded housing, and a sad number of underprivileged people who have probably never stepped foot into a Chipotle in their lives.
But if they roll into the library with proof of residence, they can acquire, for no cost whatsoever and with less effort than it takes to parlay your order to a Chipotle burrito artist, a library card. This card allows them to check out any book they want, including Foer’s.
It also gives them Internet access.
Foer better hope they don’t come across his Vanity Fair interview. They’re probably not going to want to read about how he’s offering his unsolicited help to them via a place that charges a small fortune for extra f**king guacamole.