May 5, 2015

Chipotle continues “Cultivating Thought” with a student essay contest


© Chipotle Mexican Grill

© Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chain restaurant Chipotle Mexican Grill has, for about the past year, been featuring short stories by well known authors on its takeout cups and bags. The first round featured big names such as Malcolm Gladwell, Toni Morrison, and George Saunders; and the second round served as something of a corrective against the criticism for omitting Latin American writers, with the inclusion of Julia Alvarez and Paulo Coelho, among others. The restaurant is gearing up for a third round of the project they call “Cultivating Thought” this fall, and beyond that, a fourth for which they’re looking for young writers to submit original works.

Chipotle announced in a press release on Monday that it’s launching an essay contest for middle and high school students (aged 13-18) who are planning to go to college, with the winners getting their work printed and illustrated on Chipotle cups and bags, as well as a $20,000 scholarship. Students will be able to submit one original story (up to 1,700 characters) per entrant while the contest is running, through May 31, about “a time when food created a memory.”

The essays will be judged by Jonathan Safran Foer—the Cultivating Thought curator—and novelist/screenwriter Laura Esquivel, who will be featured in the third round of authors this fall. “When Chipotle asked me to take part in the Cultivating Thought program both as an author and an essay contest judge,” Esquivel says, “I was excited by the idea of sharing my story through this unique channel and helping young, inspiring writers to do the same.”

Chipotle’s chief creative and development officer Mark Crumpacker says in the press statement:

The goal of the Cultivating Thought series has been to engage our customers’ intellect and perhaps offer a moment of literary reflection on stories written by authors with unique perspectives. Through the essay contest, we are offering young writers an opportunity to share their own perspective on a one-of-a-kind platform to express their writings about food, and a chance to receive a scholarship to help advance their education.

Foer and Esquivel will select ten winners from the entries, based on “originality, creativity, quality of composition, and use of theme.” Those winners will appear on Cultivating Though packaging sometime in 2016.


Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.