Jonathan Safran Foer doesn’t have a smartphone, which is why the author found himself bored in line at Chipotle one day. In similar situations, most of us instantly whip out our smartphones to scroll through Twitter feeds and Instagram selfies. People don’t get bored anymore, they scroll.
But for folks like Foer who don’t own a phone, downtime may still beget boredom, which may beget an idea. “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,” Foer told Chipotle CEO Steve Ells. The text in question, Foer decided, should be his original stories printed on Chipotle cups and bags.
Ells loved the idea, so starting today, prose from Foer, Toni Morrison, Malcolm Gladwell, Sarah Silverman, George Saunders, and others will grace the sides of your medium Diet Coke and bag of hint-o-lemon chips. “I selected the writers, and insofar as there was any editing, I did it,” Foer told Vanity Fair. “I tried to put together a somewhat eclectic group, in terms of styles. I wanted some that were essayistic, some fiction, some things that were funny, and somewhat thought provoking.”
While I’m all for more good writing in more places, this pairing raises some questions. First, since Jonathan Safran Foer wrote a book about the horrors of eating animals and the terrors of the American food systems, why is he 1. eating at Chipotle? 2. aligning his brand with Chipotle? Foer argues that Chipotle–despite serving meat he would never eat–makes an effort to do its best for customers and for the environment. “Chipotle was pointed to quite often as a model of what scaling good practices might look like,” he said, adding that “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.”
As for Chipotle, CMO Mark Crumpacker believes that this may give customers something more rewarding to do than mindlessly swipe through their phones. “We’ve never used our packaging in the traditional sense that fast food uses them, to promote things like Coca-Cola,” he told Co.Exist. “This takes people out of their daily routine a little bit, maybe gets them to think about their world in a different way.”
The cups are part of a branding effort called Cultivating Thought, which kicked off with a twee-tastic video of Foer introducing the project. “We’re hoping this will allow people to connect with the musings of these writers with whom they may or may not be familiar and create a moment of analog pause in a digital world, provoking introspection or inspiration, and maybe a little laughter,” reads the site. The authors were all very excited to participate, according to Foer. (That they likely got a chunk of change from Chipotle for their work probably doesn’t hurt, either.)
Chipotle gets to associate itself with highbrow literary figures; highbrow literary figures get to reach an audience that may not be familiar with highbrow literary figures; Chipotle customers get something new to stare at while they scarf down a carnitas bowl. Win-win-win.