Chipotle has announced that Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of “Everything Is Illuminated,” will be among those novelists illuminating soda cups at the Mexican fast-casual chain. Foer, along with Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, Toni Morrison and George Saunders, has produced original text that will be featured on the cups. This is weird for many reasons — not least because smart people know that after spending around $9 for a burrito, you ought to just get the small, free cup of water.
It’s not exactly news that writers, in the name of cash or brand expansion, do all sorts of weird things — or that quick dining establishments can get a veneer of class from literature, from Starbucks’ point-of-purchase displays of memoirs to the old books lying around Potbelly Sandwich Works.
However, the picks seem a bit … random. Morrison is unimpeachable, sure, but isn’t that the problem: that she’s too great, and has one too many Nobel Prizes, to be participating? Malcolm Gladwell and Michael Lewis are writing the sort of nonfiction that’s in no way escapist, and a bit of a drag to read over lunch. Saunders, as has been noted on Twitter, has spent his career writing about sensitive artistic types crushed by corporatocracy, so his doing this is a little ironic. Foer wrote a book about how he doesn’t eat meat.
If Chipotle could do it over again — or if they do a second round, presuming this is a P.R. “win” for them — here are the authors we’d ask to produce short stories for the cups.
H. P. Lovecraft: Eating one of Chipotle’s Cthulhu-size burritos for lunch takes us to the mountains of madness! Lovecraft, post-”True Detective,” is hotter than ever, and there’s enough Lovecraft arcana out there to find an unheralded story for Chipotle cups, one about an ancient evil that leaves its victims with distended, queasy stomachs.
Jennifer Egan: Considering the frequency with which Chipotle fans visit the chain, the restaurant might have been well-advised to make a string of interconnected stories over the course of various different novelty cups — revealing a complete universe only once you’ve had 10 or 12 sodas. The “Visit From the Good Squad” author would’ve been up to the task.
Donna Tartt: Would only work if Chipotle radically upsized its sodas.
Joyce Carol Oates: Maybe this could fill the time in her schedule that she currently expends on Twitter. Also, she could produce a cup-length short story (whatever that is) in the amount of time it’d take you to say “barbacoa.”
Philip Roth: If there’s one thing that could lure the retired novelist back to writing, it might just be “getting paid in burritos.” If there are two, it might be the opportunity to use carnitas as a plot point to mock Jewish dietary laws. Chipotle should invest in a time machine (if they can afford Toni Morrison, they can definitely afford a time machine) and bring back the angrier 1990s Roth.
Milan Kundera: The chain’s attempts to brand itself as a kinder, gentler fast-food alternative, through sharing fiction that authors had lying around or through an ad campaign that depicts cute little pigs being slaughtered in a cuddly manner, perfectly fit the definition of “kitsch” Kundera popularized in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”
Danielle Steel: All of her novels sell well on the basis of spicy components, but are ultimately indistinguishable from one another in a manner that reveals their dispiritingly standardized mass production. Sounds familiar!