Jonathan Safran Foer, Chipotle putting works by Gladwell, Morrison, Saunders on cups

Author of "Eating Animals" may have beef with the meat industry, but it didn't stop him from expanding hungry minds

Published May 15, 2014 7:51PM (EDT)

Jonathan Safran Foer        (AP/Bebeto Matthews)
Jonathan Safran Foer (AP/Bebeto Matthews)

Jonathan Safran Foer, author of "Everything is Illuminated," "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" and anti-meat-eating book, "Eating Animals" found himself book-less at Chipotle. Without a book, magazine or smartphone, he told Vanity Fair "I really just wanted to die with frustration."

Figuring he was not alone in this predicament, he did what any great author who has access to the Chipotle CEO, would do: He emailed CEO Steve Ells and suggested putting interesting text on cups and bags. "‘Wouldn’t it be cool to just put some interesting stuff on it?'" he emailed. "'Get really high-quality writers of different kinds, creating texts of different kinds that you just give to your customers as a service.’"

Ells went for it and now the cups and bags will be adorned with what Chipotle is calling "Cultivating Thought." The cups will now have sizable chunks of Malcolm Gladwell, Toni Morrison, George Saunders, Michael lewis and Foer himself.

And while bringing literature to the masses of burrito eaters seems like a worth goal. It seems strange that Foer, an avid vegetarian, would chose Chipotle a company that sells meat (despite its vegetarian propaganda). He told Vanity Fair this:

“There were things that I had to at least think about, like the fact that they serve meat, and I don’t eat meat,” Foer said. “And the fact that they’re a sizable corporation, and that I don’t tend to get involved with sizable corporations any more than I have to, and the fact that I have no interest in marketing for anyone or endorsing anything.

“That having been said, I got to know quite a bit about the company, not in the process of doing this, but in the process of Eating Animals, Chipotle was pointed to quite often, as a model of what scaling good practices might look like. The truth is, that’s not really why I did this. 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.”

It seems Foer has separated his crusade against factory farms, from a push to cultivate minds. However, it still seems to be a strange collaboration. Though Chipotle claims to only use "responsibly raised beef" and puts out beautiful ads deriding factory farms and inhuman slaughter, the company is fast food after-all, and far from perfect.

As my colleague Lindsay Abrams wrote: "The company is anti-GMO, but its food isn’t GMO-free. It eschews the use of antibiotics in meat production, but about 20 percent of its meat is sourced from conventional farms. Some of its beef may not be 100 percent grass-fed."

Hopefully Foer's messages won't get mixed, and his partnership -- on the literature front -- with Chipotle won't lead to an endorsement of Chipotle on a sustainability front. While Chipotle may be miles away from other fast food chains, it still has a ways to go.

By Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Chipotle George Saunders Jonathan Safran Foer Literature Malcolm Gladwell Michael Lewis Toni Morrison