Jonathan Safran Foer Brings Mini-Novels to Chipotle Restaurant Cups

chipotle cups

We still think you should bring your own reusable cups to a meal at a Chipotle restaurant, but this idea that novelist Jonathan Safran Foer brought to the chain is still pretty cool, in case you forget yours.

As stories go, this is a classic one: Novelist dines alone at a Chipotle restaurant and forgets to bring something to read. Not even a smart phone. Just imagine the horror of having to be alone with your food and your thoughts.

Apparently it was all too much for Foer, the novelist and author of “Eating Animals” (about his foray into vegetarianism) who found himself in exactly this situation in a Chipotle restaurant one day.

Foer recalled that a few years earlier, he had actually met Steve Ells, the founder and CEO of Chipotle. He sent Ells an email, as he recalled to Vanity Fair: “I said, ‘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 the magazine. “And unlike McDonald’s, it’s not like they’re selling their surfaces to the highest bidder. They had nothing on their bags. So I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to just put some interesting stuff on it? Get really high-quality writers of different kinds, creating texts of different kinds that you just give to your customers as a service.’”

Long story short: Ells dug it and last week, the chain released its exclusive bags and cups with stories from Foer, Malcolm Gladwell, Toni Morrison, George Saunders, and Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Lewis.

Called “Cultivating Thought,” the stories and authors are selected and edited by Foer. “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,” he told Vanity Fair.

Foer said the partnership was an interesting one on several fronts: for one, he’s a vegetarian and while the chain does offer some pretty tasty vegetarian options, it does serve lots of meat. Mostly meat. He also wrestled with the fact that even despite its commitments to local food and sustainability, Chipotle is a large corporation. “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’,” he continued. “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.”

You can read the two-minute stories on Vanity Fair’s website, or at your local Chipotle.

Find  Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image via Vanity Fair

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.