Chipotle’s ‘Cultivating Thought’ forgets to cultivate Latino authors

If Chipotle claims to be a Mexican Grill, it may be valid to wonder why the chain’s new marketing strategy—publishing original literary works on its…

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Chipotle’s ‘Cultivating Thought’ forgets to cultivate Latino authors

FILE – This Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, file photo, shows the door at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Robinson Township, Pa. The chain has recently been under fire for not including Latino authors in its “Cultivating Thought” marketing campaign.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

If Chipotle claims to be a Mexican Grill, it may be valid to wonder why the chain’s new marketing strategy—publishing original literary works on its bags and cups—doesn’t include any Latino authors.

The campaign, entitled “Cultivating Thought,” includes short stories from 10 different authors: some women, some men, some white, some African-American. However, when Chipotle announced the new look for its paper products last week, many in the Latino community voiced a sense of injustice at the lack of Latino or Mexican authors in the group.

Chipotle responded by saying that the marketing strategy represents a first step in the learning process and that they reached out to numerous authors, including Latino writers.

A book with your burrito

The Cultivating Thought campaign is the brainchild of author Jonathan Safran Foer, who wanted to give customers something engaging to read while they were eating their burritos.

According to Foer, the original short stories are meant to take about two minutes to read and aren’t supposed to be focused on any particular theme or message. The authors chosen for the campaign, in addition to Foer, include:

–       Toni Morrison

–       Malcolm Gladwell

–       Sarah Silverman

–       Michael Lewis

–       Bill Hader

–       Judd Apatow

–       George Saunders

–       Steven Pinker

–       Sheri Fink

Each author’s full story, as well as Q&A responses, is published on cultivatingthought.com.

Confusion and Anger

The Latino community’s reaction to that list of authors was quick and, in some cases, vitriolic.

Gustavo Arrellano, quoted in O.C. Weekly, made no bones about his reaction: “‘In Foer’s world, Latino authors simply don’t exist and simply don’t appeal to his Chipotle worldview of what the chain is advertising as ‘Cultivating Thought’—the only Mexican cultivation the two approve for their beloved burritos is the tomatoes harvested by Florida pickers.’”

Similarly, Lisa Alvarez and Alex Espinoza created a Facebook page to “collect criticism and chastise Chipotle.” Espinoza posted a few thoughts on the page: “Here’s the thing. I exist. I am full of stories. Just ask me, and I’ll tell you. But you have to ask…Don’t ignore me. Don’t eat my food and think you know me.”

Taking another tack, some have decided to parody the Cultivating Thought campaign. Alex Alvarez, writing for Fusion.net, compiled a list of literary stories that Chipotle could have used, done in the style of writers such as Pablo Neruda, Sandra Cisneros, and Junot Diaz. The stories poke unabashed fun at Chipotle’s quasi-Mexican branding and food.

Chipotle Responds

Chipotle’s director of communications, Chris Arnold, told the New York Times that despite some negative reaction to the choice of writers, the purpose of the campaign was to “‘expand the space for writing and literature. Somehow, that seems considerably more productive than expanding the space for snark.’”

The chain also explained that while it initially contacted 40 authors, the final list was determined by who responded. Arnold, quoted in a Fox News article, explained that “‘Many more authors declined our request to submit a piece than accepted, including well known Latino writers.’”

Arnold also indicated that if the first phase of Cultivating Thought goes well, Chipotle will look to expand its pool of writers in the future and to “‘add to the diversity of contributors.’” According to the New York Times, there’s no definitive report as to how long the campaign will last, but the chain might add new writers every few months.

With that said, the question remains: is the omission of Latino authors from Chipotle’s marketing campaign a serious error, an honest oversight, or a moot point? As the Latino community and others continue discussing the implications of Cultivating Thought, we may see a precedent set for future branding initiatives of this type.