Chipotle writers' lineup lacks Mexican, Mexican-American, or Latin American authors

The omission has angered many, with writer Gustavo Arellano criticizing the decision and a California Mexican restaurant offering blank cups and pens so customers can pen their own stories.

Gene J. Puskar/AP
Chipotle recently launched a program in which various authors and artists contribute pieces to be printed on the fast food chain's cups and bags.

By now, we’ve heard about fast food chain Chipotle’s campaign to print short stories from great literary figures on its cups. Read Toni Morrison with your taco or Malcolm Gladwell with your burrito – brilliant, right?

Except for one thing. The company, whose full name is Chipotle Mexican Grill, didn’t include a single Mexican, Mexican-American or Latin American writer in its lineup.

Oops.

As we learned in an earlier Monitor post titled “Looking for a good read? Try a Chipotle bag,” writer Jonathan Safran Foer dreamed up the “Cultivating Thought” campaign with Chipotle, in which he chose 10 authors, including Sarah Silverman and George Saunders, whose short stories would appear on Chipotle cups and bags.

“I said, ‘You know you have all of these surfaces in your restaurants, the cups, the bags, why don’t you just give something to people?'” Foer said in a statement on the website for the program. “Not as any kind of marketing tool, not with any particular message, but just something thoughtful.”

Apparently not thoughtful enough, according to the Latino literati, who perhaps see this as more proof of the literary world’s lack of diversity and have stirred up a backlash. 

Writer Gustavo Arellano offered his two cents in the O.C. Weekly: “In Foer's world, Latino authors simply don't exist and simply don't appeal to his Chipotle worldview of what the chain is advertising as ‘Cultivating Thought’ – the only Mexican cultivation the two approve for their beloved burritos is the tomatoes harvested by Florida pickers.” 

The omission has even inspired a Facebook page “Cultivating Invisibility: Chipotle’s Missing Mexicans." The page, created by Lisa Alvarez and Alex Espinoza to collect criticism and chastise Chipotle, parodies Chipotle’s campaign with a play on its tag line reading, “Cultivating Thought, Just Not Well-Thought-Out: Our mainly East Coast white guy author series.”

“Here’s the thing. I exist. I am full of stories. Just ask me, and I’ll tell you. But you have to ask,” Espinoza wrote on the page. “Don’t ignore me. Don’t eat my food and think you know me.”

That’s not all. Berkeley Mexican fast-food restaurant Flacos is handing out blank cups and pens so customers can write their own stories, according to the LA Times’ Jacket Copy.

The contributions at Flacos illustrate the anger some Latinos have felt at being left out.

“At the frozen food section at Ralph’s supermarket, the ‘Latino Style Vegetables’ are cut up all small,” Michele Serros, the author of the book “Chicana Falsa,” wrote on her cup. “Like little minds? Little significance? The ‘Malibu Style Vegetables’ are cut big and grand. The cauliflower, which is WHITE, is the BIGGEST veggie in the picture!”

The outrage displayed may surprise some, but critics of Chipotle’s campaign may see this as further proof of a sentiment expressed by minority writers in days and months past – that of a diversity problem in the literary world.

What do you think: Was Chipotle’s oversight a gross injustice or a simple omission to which critics are overreacting?

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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