Chipotle Is Bringing Stories by Literary Giants to Its Cups, but None Are by Latinos

The Mexican grill let Jonathan Safran Foer choose top-notch writers and cultural figures to feature.

President Barack Obama presents novelist Toni Morrison with a Presidential Medal of Freedom on May 29, 2012, during an East Room event at the White House. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

May 19, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Starting Thursday, when you head to Chipotle for a burrito and a soda, your drink cup will look a little different. That’s because it’ll come printed with an original short story or essay from one of America’s most famous authors or cultural leaders. The cup series, called Cultivating Thought, features Toni Morrison, Sarah Silverman, Bill Hader, Malcolm Gladwell, and six others.

Sounds like a great way to get the public reading and thinking—except that at a chain that turns a tidy profit selling “Mexican” food, not one single “thought” from a Mexican, Mexican American, Latino author, or public intellectual is included. As Celtic Chicana author Anna-Marie McLemore tweeted on Sunday, “Chipotle didn’t see fit to include Latino/a writers in its literary campaign? Should I just head back to the kitchen then?”

Irvine Valley College English professor Lisa Alvarez voiced similar concerns. “I see this as an unfortunate pattern, an inability to recognize the contributions of Mexican Americans as public intellectuals equal to the ones chosen for this series,” Alvarez told the Orange County Weekly. “We can inspire the food, create the food, plant the food, pick the food, serve the food, clear the food, clean up after it’s all over...but that’s about it.”

The literary cups are the brainchild of author Jonathan Safran Foer, who detailed on Friday to Vanity Fair how he was sitting in a Chipotle and had nothing to occupy his time while he ate a burrito. Foer sent CEO Steve Ells an email in which he wrote, “Wouldn’t it be cool to just put some interesting stuff on it [Chipotle’s cups and bags]? Get really high-quality writers of different kinds, creating texts of different kinds that you just give to your customers as a service?” Ells agreed, and the idea came to life, with Foer choosing which authors or cultural leaders to include.

As Gustavo Arellano also wrote in the OC Weekly, Foer and Chipotle didn’t see fit to include Pulitzer Prize–winning Junot Diaz or “the doña of Chicano literature, Sandra Cisneros. Not best-selling author Luis Alberto Urrea. Not Tex-Mex loco Dagoberto Gilb. Not any other number of Latino authors who could easily contribute a story or two that would be applicable [to] a Mexican-food chain. Judd Apatow made the list—but not one Latino.”

The same day that the Vanity Fair article ran, a Facebook group, Cultivating Invisibility: Chipotle’s Missing Mexicans, was launched. Several members have posted the results of their emails to the company asking why a Mexican grill failed to include any Latinos in the campaign.

The same response from Chipotle’s customer service has been coming back to several of the group’s members: “We did not think of including individuals from specific ethnic backgrounds. We simply wanted individuals to Cultivate Thought.”

“Of course, we want Latino writers everywhere, always. But more importantly, we need writers of color everywhere,” says Brooklyn-based author Daniel José Older, who has long been an advocate of giving diverse literary voices equal attention and promotion. But, adds Older, “as a Latino writer, I don't measure where my face should be seen based on some watered-down, corporate-marketing-scheme version of my culture.”

Chipotle’s customer service says that the company intends to expand Cultivating Thought to “anybody who would like to be a part of it,” and it will “take note” of any concerns as it makes additional plans.