Full disclosure: I had never eaten at a Chipotle before last month. It’s not that I had anything specifically against Chipotle (although I don’t tend to eat fast food in general, although I do own—and use!—my TV, so I’m not that insufferable), more that there wasn’t one near my home or office and if I’m getting Mexican food, I’d rather get it from somewhere authentic (ok, maybe I am a little insufferable). However, that changed when Northside Media Group moved from DUMBO to Downtown Brooklyn, and suddenly a Chipotle was virtually in my office lobby. And, reader, I won’t lie, I kind of love it. Oh, it’s way too expensive (guacamole is $2.50 extra? that is some bulllllshit) and it’s subpar compared to the kind of food available only a short subway ride away (Tacos Matamoros for life, you guys), but who wants to go a short subway ride away on a lunch break? Not me! I don’t even want to go a short walk away, because I am lazy. And so! Chipotle has become a once-a-week habit, which might not sound like much but, you have to understand, I’m not made of money and I need guacamole.
Anyway! Why am I telling you all this? Basically, I just want to get across the point that I am not some Chipotle fanatic, more of a casual fan, who appreciates its convenience, as well as the fact that I can get a really filling meal, relatively quickly, and feel confident that it’s not loaded with preservatives and antibiotics and hormone-addled mystery meat. But even despite not being incredibly invested in the restaurant chain, I’ve still felt very defensive of it all day, as I’ve seen it continuously mocked on Twitter and Facebook for its new plan to publish works by famous authors like Toni Morrison and George Saunders on its disposable cups and to-go bags.
Via Vanity Fair, we learned that Brooklyn author Jonathan Safran Foer approached Chipotle’s CEO, Steve Ells, with the idea of printing short fiction for customers to enjoy while consuming their burrito bowls or whatever else they order (although, seriously, who orders anything other than a burrito bowl? who are you weirdos?). Safran Foer was inspired to do this while “sitting at a Chipotle one day, when he realized that he had nothing to do while noshing on his burrito. He had neglected to bring a book or magazine, and he didn’t yet own a smartphone.” That is so frustrating, right? Right! In fact, Safran Foer found that he “really just wanted to die with frustration.” That’s serious! But instead of doing what you or I might do and actually die of frustration, Safran Foer contacted Ells and, long story short, we can now all enjoy the short fiction of George Saunders during our lunch hour. Sure, we could also do that by, like, buying Tenth of December, but, baby steps, you guys!
But, of course, as is the case with many, relatively innocuous news items, people had to instantly mock what Chipotle was doing and speak about it like it was yet another death knell of the publishing industry, instead of it being what it appears to be, namely, an interesting way to spread the works of excellent authors (and Malcolm Gladwell) to a wider audience than might otherwise read them. How is this a bad thing again? I’m all for snark (see: previous parenthetical about Malcolm Gladwell), but this seems excessive. As Safran Foer puts it: “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.”
“Democratic and good?” We’ll take it.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen