Esther Cepeda: Chipotle Mexican Grill cooks up a controversy
CHICAGO -- Corporate America has its place in our economy and culture—as does its stream of irresistible products—but that place is not to be arbiters of ideology or intellectual tastemakers.
A great many people instinctively understand this. They don't buy their burgers, sneakers or computers based on the religious or political beliefs of the people producing the goods or services. They can feel strongly about certain issues and yet still be confident enough to patronize certain brands and not feel a lick of guilt about it.
Take Josh Hune of New York City as an example. He's gay, but he's also happy the Chick-fil-A fast food chain, which came under fire when its president admitted he opposed same-sex marriage, is about to open shops in the Big Apple.
An item in the New York Post had Hune posing with a fried chicken patty in a bun. In reference to a friend's reaction to his politically incorrect poultry allegiance, Hune remarked: “He told me I was the worst gay in NYC. But I personally don't think my money or my going there is me saying I hate gays as well. I don't think about it like that $7 is going to some foundation to stop gay marriage. For me, it's just food.”
Now, let's take Hune's lead and apply the same logic to Chipotle Mexican Grill, the purveyor of burritos and guacamole, which has had a rough few weeks.
Not only has the chain offended gun lovers by asking them not to openly display their firearms in its dining rooms, but now management has ticked off what few Mexicans hadn't already vowed to despise Chipotle for elevating the humble taco stand to something that has about as much cultural relevance to Mexico as Taco Bell.
Here's where Chipotle fumbled: The company decided that in addition to pushing its organic, sustainable, locally sourced “Food With Integrity,” it would also jazz up the cups and takeout bags with short stories by prominent authors.
Chipotle's “Cultivating Thought” campaign seemed like a slam-dunk for the type of clientele the eatery tries to cultivate—mainly, I imagine, people who think of themselves as being just a little fancier than others.
But while the chain likes to boast about its culinary artistry and “in-depth understanding of cooking, seasoning, knife skills and grilling techniques,” its leadership clearly doesn't have an in-depth understanding of how idiotic it appears when it completely overlooks the people whose food it replicates.
Yes, Chipotle forgot to include any Mexican authors in its selection of literature. Cue the upset Mexicans.
Fox News Latino reports that two writers, Lisa Alvarez and Alex Espinoza, created “Cultivating Invisibility: Chipotle's Missing Mexicans,” a Facebook page “where upset authors and others can voice their complaints with Chipotle's refried rebuff.”
“Here's the thing. I exist. I am full of stories. Just ask me, and I'll tell you. But you have to ask,” Espinoza wrote. “Don't ignore me. Don't eat my food and think you know me.”
Instead of bemoaning the chain's obvious ignorance, I'll stick to simply feeling sorry for diners who have no other option—i.e., actual Mexican family members to cook for them or access to authentic Mexican restaurants—than to have to dine at this yuppified fancy-Mex franchise.
But if Hispanics really want to counteract this oversight, a Facebook page is too easy an out. Instead of clicking “Like,” why not instead vow to become voracious readers, arbiters of contemporary literature, and drivers of book sales out of all proportion to the Hispanic percentage of the U.S. population? Better yet: Let's not settle for a handful of “Mexican writers” who could be featured on a paper sack.
Let's actively cultivate the next Toni Morrison, Malcolm Gladwell or Michael Lewis—authors notable for the beauty of their words or the power of their journalism and not simply for their racial or ethnic backgrounds—and conspicuously read their books at our favorite taco dive.
Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.