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The Chipotle Paper Bag Essay

September 20, 2015
It's tough to read an essay like this, but at least nobody can watch you eat. (image via wikimedia)

It’s tough to read an essay like this, but at least nobody can watch you eat. (image via wikimedia)

First of all, I don’t want to seem like I’m giving Chipotle free advertising.  I don’t have anything against the fast food chain; I’m just not that kind of blog.  Besides, Chipotle doesn’t give me free advertising, so why should I help them out?

Anyway, Chipotle is printing short essays from several prominent authors (like Jonathan Franzen and Joyce carol Oates) on the chain’s paper bags and cups.  The Cultivating Thought paper bag essay isn’t a bad idea, but it would have been more useful 10 years ago before smart phones and tablets.  Still, I guess it’s better late than never.

Literature in restaurants isn’t a new idea.  Ernest Hemingway supposedly wrote his six-word story on a napkin in a public place, but it probably wasn’t at Chipotle.  His tale, “For sale, baby shoes, never worn,” wasn’t the kind of story a restaurant would have wanted.  Prose like that might have turned off eaters.  Something a little more upbeat is probably better.

As far as authors go, Jonathan Franzen might not be the best choice for a paper bag essay.  A few weeks ago, he ticked off a bunch of women in an interview by saying something about Edith Wharton.  Maybe the women whom he ticked off will boycott Chipotle.  Boycotts are pretty popular today.  I’d boycott Chipotle if they chose James Patterson for their paper bag essay, but I go to Chipotle only once a month, so they wouldn’t miss my money too much.  Whenever I talk about boycotting all-things James Patterson, people give me strange looks, so I’ve given up talking about it.

The paper bag  essay/cup is sometimes compared to a cereal box.  After all, almost everybody reads the cereal box.  If you don’t, you’re missing out.  But the cereal box lasts for several servings and can hold up over time.  The paper bag gets crumpled and tossed aside.  The paper cup is so small that it’s tough to read the essay.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’d rather have the tiny print essay than no essay at all, but it’s not as practical as a cereal box.

Essay bags don’t even have to use current authors.  There are a bunch of current writers I’ve never heard of who are on the essay bags.  It’s great publicity for these current authors, but jaded customers might think the essay bag is a scam to get people to buy these authors’ current books.

To avoid this cynicism, restaurants could use authors who are in the public domain.  Restaurants could promote poetry by putting Frost, Dickinson, and Whitman on napkins and cups.  Excerpts of essays or novels from Tolstoy or Twain or Dickens could be on the paper bags.  I’d read a classic essay bag simply because of the prestige of the author.  Women who are angry that Franzen had a Chipotle paper bag essay could be placated with poetry by Dorothy Parker or prose by Edith Wharton.

We probably won’t see unknown authors on Chipotle bags (unless there’s a contest), but that won’t stop me from writing a pretend paper bag essay.  If I had a chance to write a restaurant’s paper bag essay, here’s what I’d write:

If You’re Reading This, Close Your Mouth

It’s usually okay to mouth words when you read.  If you’re in public, most other people around you are wearing earbuds or are lost in their own thoughts to notice.  But if you’re reading this essay, you’re probably in a restaurant surrounded by folks who are eating.  And if you are reading aloud while you’re eating in public, then you’re probably being pretty gross and you’re not even aware of it.

Most people don’t want to be gross.  We groom ourselves, check our appearances when we get the chance, and try to make good impressions.  But a lot of people who care about how they look chew with their mouths open, and that’s gross.

I would write a vivid description to provide a mental image of how chewing with your mouth open is gross, but since you’re eating while you’re reading this, I won’t do that.  I try to think of my audience, which is more than people who chew with their mouths open do.

I guess people aren’t taught anymore how to chew with their mouths closed.  Maybe it’s like cursive not being taught in schools.  Maybe chewing with your mouth closed is thought of as obsolete, since people stare so much at their phones.  Still, not everybody stares at their phones when they eat.  I don’t stare at my phone when I eat, so I’m an expert.  If you’re chewing with your mouth open, you’re being gross.

The good news is that this is an easy fix.  If you’re not sure how to NOT gross people out while you eat, here’s what you do.

  1. After you place food in your mouth, shut your lips. If your cheeks puff out with food, put a smaller portion in next time.
  2. Once your lips are closed, move your teeth. Concentrate on keeping your lips shut tight while you chew.
  3. If this is difficult, practice chewing with an empty mouth while your mouth is closed.
  4. Once you can keep your mouth closed, concentrate on not talking while in the process of chewing.
  5. Wait until you are done swallowing before beginning a sentence.
  6. If somebody asks you a question while you’re chewing, put up a forefinger (NOT a middle finger), and wait until you’re done swallowing before you speak. Take your time.  Don’t choke on your food just because you’re in a hurry to speak.
  7. Once you’re done eating, excuse yourself to the restroom and check your teeth. Have floss ready just in case something gross is stuck in your teeth.  Anything stuck to your teeth is gross.

Eating and talking are both necessary functions in life.  You have to do both in order to survive.  I’m not saying you should give up reading or talking.  Just try not to do both at the same time.  And even when you’re not talking, chew your food with your mouth shut.

Maybe my pretend paper bag essay isn’t as deep as any of the Cultivating Thoughts paper bags, but that’s okay.  If you’re chewing with your mouth open, the deep cultivated thoughts won’t do you much good anyway.


What do you think?  How likely are you to read a restaurant’s paper bag essay?  If you could write a Cultivating Thoughts paper bag essay, what would you write about?  Can you have deep thoughts if you’re chewing with your mouth open?

  1. Jonathan Franzen might . . . be the best choice for a paper bag. Ooops. You’ve got to drop this dude!

    • Well, since he writes controversial books and makes controversial statements in interviews, maybe Jonathan Franzen just likes making cultivating thoughts, even if they’re not on paper bags.

      • Nah, he just makes white people feel that they still exist, nothing more. It goes Sherwood Anderson, John Updike, Jonathan Franzen. Yawn. He claims holding his hands above a keyboard is an odd position for him. Jurassic Park mentality…dinosaurs use pencils still, don’t they? 😉

  2. thenarhh permalink

    Reblogged this on arcanningly and commented:
    of all divine things

  3. I would Joyce Oates. And me of course 🙂 Great idea to have some hands free reading material if u are waiting 4 a date.

    • Oates’s cultivating thoughts essay is on the Cultivating Thoughts website, so you can read it without actually having to get the paper bag (if you want to).

  4. I would definitely read any kind of paper bag essay. I feel awkward sitting on my own in fast food restaurants, and I feel like I should look busy doing something. I’d probably get annoyed if something spilled over the essay, and I could only partially read it.

    • Or if we get annoyed at the essay (even without spilling anything on it), we can tear it up and throw it away guilt-free.

      I never tear up and throw away books I don’t like because I know I’d feel guilt over it. Paper bags? They’re supposed to get spilled on, torn up, and thrown away.

  5. So much to say about this project – sigh – but I’ll just point out that Chipotle Mexican Grill also seems to overlook the Mexican and Mexican American writers. It took them three tries before they found one – Laura Esquivel. Still no Mexican American writers. Nada. We can inspire the food, grow it, pick, it cook it serve it – but that’s about it.

  6. Drunk Off Rhetoric permalink

    I’m holding out for Chew With Your Mouth Closed essays, they’ll be doing the restaurant world a good service haha
    I would definitely read these paper bag essays, if I ever stepped foot into a Chipotle – maybe now I have an excuse.

    • I wrote the Chew With Your Mouth Closed essay because it seems like I’ve seen a lot more people recently chewing with their mouths open, but they weren’t necessarily at Chipotle. Maybe putting that essay on my pretend Chipotle bag wasn’t fair to Chipotle.

  7. A long time ago I taught English at a middle school in a small Southern town. During National Writing Month, the owner of the only grocery store in town (and my neighbor no less) donated stacks of paper bags to the English department for the kids to write their works on the bags and illustrate if desired. So during that month my students got “published”, the store looked good supporting education, and all the customers got a taste of how creative kids can be. It was a win, win, win situation all around.

  8. I vote Chipotle puts one of Frida’s self-portraits next to Franzen’s essay, looking down on it. That might placate a lot of folks.

  9. For several years I thought Chipotle was owned by McDonald’s so I stopped eating there. I found out last week this was just a very tenacious rumor. Now I feel foolish.
    That is what I think. Currently. Soon I will think something different, probably.

  10. …well I devoured THIS essay while I should have been working. …without Chipotle. Entertaining.

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