One Veggie Burrito and a Small George Saunders, Please!

The other night we decided on Chipotle for dinner. We probably get take-out from our local store maybe once every two to three months. There was a short line and I’ve become so addicted to being entertained by a screen in my face that I toyed aimlessly with my phone for the few minutes it took until I ordered. Then, I ordered, the busy staff put everything together, dropped it all in a large paper bag, swiped my credit card, and wished me well as I rushed off to the car and home to eat.

It was not until after dinner that the artwork on the side of the bag caught my attention…
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It seemed sort of Where’s-Waldo-ish and drew me in closer… image
Cute, I thought and then I turned the bag over to this quote:
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Huh? A socialist-sounding  George Saunders quote on a Chipotle bag? So I flip it over to the other side to find an entire short story:
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I was equal parts delighted and baffled. I read and enjoyed the story. And yet I still felt out of sorts. What on earth was a George Saunders story doing on the side of a Chipotle bag? Was this a good thing? Could this be a sign of the end times? Does Saunders like Chipotle? Is the writing life so brutal these days that carpet bombing fast-food chains in hopes of gaining one new reader out of every 500 is the way to go? Does Chipotle truly value good literature? How would this story come across if a giant sploop of guacamole obliterated part of it?

Apparently, this is part of Chipotle’s Cultivating Thought Author Series where the chain’s cups and bags now serve as packaging with a dose of literature. To top it off, the whole thing is the brainchild of author Jonathan Safran Foer who “cultivated” quite an A-list of writers after having nothing to read one time while eating a burrito. The Globe & Mail turns a critical eye toward this project giving voice to many of the gut reactions and questions I had, but especially answering the one I was most curious about: Yes, these are new pieces written specifically for Chipotle cups and bags.

On the one hand, I like exposing people to new writers and writing in places and ways none of us are used to. On the other hand, it feels like capitalistic appropriation of art for commerce’s sake–a decoration or novelty printed on the outside of an object designed to be quickly used and discarded. Does it double the “usefulness” of the object? Does it demean literature? It feels just a little too Kumbaya–I’m left dazed, uncertain as to whether to order another burrito or stop reading Saunders entirely…

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