Imagine this: you’re at Chipotle, chowing down on your liberal, guilt-free, ethically-sourced burrito, when—horror of horrors—you realize you have nothing to read. Your smartphone’s out of juice, you left your kindle at home, and you don’t have a paperback in your back pocket (because, hello, 2014, death of the novel, etc). What do you do? Eat without distraction for ten blissful, quiet minutes? GOD FORBID. This is America, not France.
Such a fate befell Jonathan Safran Foer recently, and he wanted to “die with frustration.” That is a real quote, you guys. But from deprivation comes innovation! Vanity Fair breaks the news that as of today, you’ll be able to read flash fiction and mini-essays by Foer, Malcolm Gladwell, Toni Morrison, George Saunders, and Michael Lewis on Chipotle’s bags and cups.
What happened was this: frustrated Foer emailed Steve Ells, Chipotle’s CEO, and suggested putting words on their food packaging. He told VF, “I said, ‘I bet a shitload of people go into your restaurants every day, and I bet some of them have very similar experiences, and even if they didn’t have that negative experience, they could have a positive experience if they had access to some kind of interesting text… So I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to just put some interesting stuff on it? Get really high-quality writers of different kinds, creating texts of different kinds that you just give to your customers as a service.'”
The union between Chipotle and Foer is a curious one. In 2009, Foer penned Eating Animals, a searing critique of America’s meat industry, and consequently became a vegetarian. Chipotle serves meat, albeit “naturally-raised” meat, procured from farms and slaughterhouses that allow their animals to roam free (or free-ish). But dead animals are still dead animals, and when asked how he felt about working with a company that serves meat to a lot of people, Foer replied: “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 backgrounds having access to good writing. A lot of those people don’t have access to libraries, or bookstores. Something felt very democratic and good about this.”
You can read Foer’s contribution, ‘Two-Minute Personality Test,’ here. He posits some interesting questions, like “Are you in any way angry at your phone?” and “Is it any way cruel to give a dog a name?”