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Chipotle's "Cultivating Thought" Campaign Stirs Up Controversy

When I received yesterday’s press release from Chipotle announcing their latest highbrow campaign involving the words of a host of illustrious writers and personalities (Toni Morrison! Jonathan Safran Foer! Sarah Silverman!) being featured on the food chain’s packaging, my inner literary publicist’s persona applauded. Before becoming a food and travel writer and editor, I spent almost ten years in publicity at HarperCollins Publishers. However, when I scrolled down the list of featured contributors, my outer Latina food editor’s persona jeered much more loudly. As Gustavo Arrelano of the Orange County Weekly’s blog Stick a Fork In It noted earlier today, nobody on the list is actually Latino. I’m sorry, QUE?

“Not Pulitzer Prize-winning Junot Diaz, who also won a James Beard award for one of the finest pieces of food writing I’ve ever read,” Arrelano writes. “Not the doña of Chicano literature, Sandra Cisneros. Not best-selling author Luis Alberto Urrea. Not Tex-Mex loco Dagoberto Gilb. Not any other number of Latino authors who could easily contribute a story or two that would be applicable a Mexican-food chain. Judd Apatow made the list–but not one Latino.”

What a shame! Chipotle missed an incredible opportunity to align itself with the ever-growing U.S. Latino population, celebrating not only its food, which Chipotle has made a fortune selling, but also their culture. Latin America teems with incredible writers from living legends like Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, and Mario Vargas Llosa to nuanced voices like Daniel Alarcon, and Chipotle (and Foer) had the opportunity to add such esteemed writers to the general population’s consciousness. As Arrelano writes:

"I think it's just the latest variation on a theme: take our food, ignore our stories," says Alex Espinoza, the acclaimed novelist of Still Water Saints and English professor at Fresno State. Along with longtime Weekly pal, Irvine Valley College English professor Lisa Alvarez, Espinoza helped to start a Facebook page called Cultivating Invisibility: Chipotle's Missing Mexicans to call out the company and Foer on their shit.”

We add our voice to Arrelano’s Chipotle grievances. As we recently reported, there are wonderful Latino writers who have shared their culinary adventures with the world. And, in addition to the many talented living scribes that grace the bookshelves of Latin American culture, Chipotle could’ve quoted the work of the many heavyweights of the past. A marketing coup for Chipotle (and Foer as editorial director, perhaps) could have been easily curated from the Chilean odes of Pablo Neruda to the Brazilian-born passages of Jorge Amado to the deeply considered words of Portuguese Jose Saramago and Argentine Jose Luis Borges. We count luminaries like the recently passed Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez in our numbers and we celebrate writers like Mexican Carlos Fuentes.

Latino voices abound. So do Chipotle storefronts. Wouldn’t it have been a true accomplishment to pay it forward by looking back to the hand that both inspires and feeds?

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