Chipotle launches essay contest for cups and $20K college scholarships

Where the words of Toni Morrison, George Saunders, Neil Gaiman, Amy Tan and Malcolm Gladwell have gone before, aspiring writers may now see their own work appear. And while the publication itself is ephemeral, it’s got an incredibly wide reach: 800,000 people a day.

The publisher is Chipotle, and the fast-food chain has been adorning cups and bags with literary short fiction and nonfiction since May 2014 with a project it calls Cultivating Thought.

To date, Chipotle has issued two iterations of its literary packaging with work from a total of 20 high-profile authors, including Nobel Prize winner Morrison, bestseller Paulo Coelho, Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides and comedian Aziz Ansari. Those recognizable names will disappear sometime next year when it begins featuring the winners of its just-launched nationwide student competition.


From now through May 31, middle- and high-school students ages 13 to 18 are invited to submit their original short essays “about a time when food created a memory” to Cultivating Thought. Stories can be up to 1,700 words.

Ten grand prize winners will be selected. Their essays will be showcased on Chiptole cups and bags, and each student will recieve $20,000, deposited in a 529 college fund.

“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,” Mark Crumpacker, chief creative and development officer at Chipotle, said in a statement. “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.”

Writer Jonathan Safran Foer, who curates the Cultivating Thought series, will serve as the judge of the contest along with Laura Esquivel, the author and screenwriter of “Like Water for Chocolate.” Esquivel’s work will be in the third iteration of the Cultivating Thought series, slated for this fall.

“When Chipotle asked me to take part in the Cultivating Thought program both as an author and an essay contest judge, I was excited by the idea of sharing my story through this unique channel and helping young, inspiring writers do the same,” Esquivel said in a release.

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