Chipotle Experiences an Outbreak of Literary Food Poisoning

» May 20th, 2014

Just as we experience outrage when Big Agriculture’s deep pockets lobby for subsidies and deregulation, so we should react when a bunch of great writers lend their literary talents to a fast-food company with a history of greenwashing.

That’s now happening with Jonathan Safran Foer and the team of writers he has “curated” to further thicken Chipotle’s rhetorical soup. Like Big Ag’s iron triangle, this relationship reeks of self-interest and faux populism. Simply put, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

So far the reviews of this initiative are rotten, as they should be. But what’s problematic is not that the writing—all done on cups and bags—isn’t insultingly bad, but that this project happened in the first place.

That an impressive slew of cultural critics and deep thinkers—ranging from Toni Morrison to Steven Pinker—didn’t think better about cheapening their talents by using them to promote a food franchise bodes poorly for the state of intelligent public discourse.  It’s like all those cool kids in high school, the best looking ones with the nicest clothes and fanciest cars, who were so collectively enthralled with their clique that were unable to see how ridiculous they looked to the rest of us.

Beyond the embarrassment of this literary-burrito association, though, is the goofy reasoning behind it. Here’s Foer’s quote in Vanity Fair: “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 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.”

Sure. All those Chipotle goers, denied access to a library or a bookstore, will now be able to read the thoughts of our nation’s most creative thinkers on the outside of trash—very democratic, very good. But, by this logic, why not just place your wordy pearls of wisdom on a McDonald’s bag? Or just a bathroom wall? That would be democratic. And eliminate this outbreak of literary food poisoning for good.

*Two notes. First, I’m so baffled by this initiative that my residual paranoia compels me to say that I think this could be a hoax. Just saying. Second, I have this piece today in Slate.

20 Responses to Chipotle Experiences an Outbreak of Literary Food Poisoning

  1. Mary Finelli says:

    Not surprising given that he played such a hand in this:

    Regarding the ‘beautiful people,’ see:

  2. Kimberley says:

    Perhaps some readers here will be aware of the anti-chipotle demonstrations that have been taking place across the country. There is a campaign called “it’s not food, it’s violence”. I have been asked why chipotle and not mcdonalds??? Chipotle shareholder value has cynically been built upon a myth of “humane” meat. I am personally also outraged by whole foods supermarket “humane” meat categorization. Humane meat by its very definition is a lie. I might also add that whole foods calling itself the healthiest food store is also a blatant lie but let’s leave my argument about that for another time. Shame on these writers for prostituting themselves on chipotle non-reusable cups.

  3. Sailesh Rao says:

    I have to respectfully disagree with the premise of your article in Slate. GMO crops promoted by Monsanto and Big Ag, in general, are harmful to human life and life in general, for several reasons:

    1. GMO crops are engineered to be resistant to a weed-killer like Roundup and are therefore, ideal for large-scale industrial farming. Industrial farmers plant GMO crops and flood their fields with Roundup, which essentially kills the soil over time. Because that’s what Roundup is intended to do, to kill everything except for the GMO seeds. The Roundup then leaches into the water runoffs from the GMO fields causing unintended plant destruction in the surrounding areas. As the soil dies and is unable to recycle nutrients effectively, the industrial farmers are forced to use more chemical fertilizers, whose excesses runoff and kill life in the rivers and the ocean.

    2. Tropical deforestation to produce animal feed relies on GMO crops for its efficacy. It is the use of chemical weedkillers like Roundup that prevents the forest from recovering from the deforestation. Roundup kills anything new that would grow in the area, except for the GMO soy that’s planted. Therefore, GMO crops are indirectly killing the tropical rainforests, which are the lungs of the Earth.

    3. Farmer suicides in India are highly correlated with their conversion to raising GMO crops, especially Bt Cotton. Crop failures are the direct cause of their suicides.

    Therefore, as a vegan committed to minimizing the exploitation of animals and as an environmentalist committed to reversing the destruction of Life on the planet, I abhor GMOs.

    Most of the scientific evidence that you cite was produced by scientists in the employ Monsanto and Big Ag. It is therefore tainted. While the FDA claims that GMO crops are identical to conventional crops, the US Patent Office begs to differ.

    61 countries, including the entire European Union, already have significant restrictions, labeling requirements or outright bans on GMO crops. I don’t believe that this is due to an anti-science bias in their population.

    • James says:

      Great. Thanks for thoughts. Maybe make them at Slate, so readers there can engage as well.

      • Sailesh Rao says:

        Didn’t see a comment thread on Slate. I’ll look again.

      • Sailesh Rao says:

        Thanks, I submitted the comment on Slate and it has generated a good discussion.

        Also, Orange juice needs to be certified non-GMO because many orange juice products contain added sugar which is usually sourced from GMO corn.

  4. Karen Harris says:

    Just when you think that the bar can’t be lowered!
    Ah, well….

  5. Mountain says:

    Silly rabbit, Big Ag doesn’t lobby for deregulation, they lobby for more regulation. Regulation serves as a barrier to entry to would-be competitors and, like subsidies, benefits the biggest of the bigs.

  6. Mountain says:

    As for the writing thing, where’s the harm? It’s printed on material that was going to be there anyway, so there should be no additional harm to the environment. You don’t really think this writing series is going to convert vegans into meat-eating Chipotle customers, do you? If not, there’s no increase in harm to animals. And the money that goes to the writers is money that isn’t going to open new locations, so you’d think that would be a good thing. So, again, where’s the harm?

    Sure, Foer’s justification in Vanity Fair was nonsensical, but that’s because he didn’t mean it. I’m pretty sure the real reason he’s curating the series is that the money sounded good, but he was uncomfortable admitting that. You know how uncomfortable people are with admitting they like profit.

  7. michele says:

    Ha, but nothing could be more couth than Carl Jr.’s TV ads !!!

  8. James says:

    I’m not a rabbit, for the record. And big ag does lobby for less rather than more governmental regulation, at least when it comes to matters it doesn’t want regulated.

    Either way, paper cup ideologies are pathetic.

    • Mountain says:

      You’ve never rabbited for another runner? That’s not very generous of you. I was never fast enough to rabbit for the fastest runners, but I paced my share of runners through the first 2 miles of a 5k (or the first 10k of a 15k) back in the day.

      At any rate, I’m sure Big Ag has lobbied for some deregulation, but it’s lobbied for a whole lot of regulation, and for a heavily regulated agricultural industry in general. It’s called regulatory capture, and it isn’t unique to agriculture– it happens every time a regulatory agency is formed. Notice how the BLM is run for the benefit of ranchers, not the burros & wild horses it is nominally supposed to protect?

      Finally, just because it’s fun to be overly literal: do you find paper cup ideologies pathetic? Do they arouse pity in you? Not in me, they don’t. They just seem trivial. But hey, the Maria Bustillos review you linked to was a fun read.

    • Mountain says:

      “big ag does lobby for less rather than more governmental regulation”

      Oh, look! It’s the country’s biggest hummus maker calling for FDA regulation of hummus! That’s totally unexpected! Big companies would never try to use regulation to squash their competitors!

      • Mountain says:

        What next? Will taxi cartels lobby cities to ban services like Uber and Lyft? Will hotels lobby the government to halt services like airBnB? That’s just crazy talk!

  9. Greg Wostrel says:

    I’m with Sailesh: putting aside the argument about whether the consumption of GE foods is harmful, it is the collateral activities/damage that GMO use enables that are unquestionably dangerous, destructive and unhealthy. To speak of the uncertain science of one aspect and not the certainty of the other is deceptive by omission.
    James: I love how you think, read all your stuff and admire how you wade right into an issue. I think you are missing the boat on this one and missed an opportunity to give companies like Monsanto the public criticism they so deserve.

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