Chipotle and Individualism: The Spirit of America

Americans are generally pro-choice.

This is not about abortion: we just love making choices. Right ones, wrong ones, informed ones, foolish ones – it’s all a part of the individualistic spirit that keeps us reassured that we inhabit the one-and-only Land of the Free. In the age of Amazon and Netflix, sometimes it feels like our choices are limitless. From higher education to iPhone cases, everything is better when it’s “personalized.” Chipotle Mexican Grill, home of the gourmet burrito, thus embodies the weightiest of American principles.

        Many might argue that Chipotle is not American. After all, it’s a “Mexican Grill,” right? Concerned citizens need not fear that illegal immigrants have infiltrated our culture. This restaurant chain is Mexican in name only. The first Chipotle opened in Denver, funded by none other than the McDonald’s Corporation, a renowned stronghold of American values. The food itself, however delicious, is a bastardization of the tradition it imitates – another thing Americans do best. Chipotle is as American as apple pie, an adage that we ultimately owe to the Dutch.

        You and I walk into our local Chipotle, and we both order burritos. We immediately face an organized assortment of options that rather resembles a ballot: the choices we make are largely uninformed, and the most important ones only involve two or three candidates. (The only difference is that at Chipotle, you often have to shout your vote to make it count.) The most basic decision, white rice or brown rice, is akin to a presidential election – most people will invariably choose the same party every time. The same principle applies to black or pinto beans. The more complex choices, such as selecting a salsa, are regrettably uneducated. Hardly anyone has tried mild, medium, and spicy; hardly anyone has researched every local judge on the ballot. As we move down the line and select our condiments, we rejoice in the knowledge that we are exercising an inalienable right.

        Guacamole is always a controversial topic in discussions surrounding Chipotle. Some people protest that it has too much garlic, or that the avocados aren’t fresh enough. Most of the scandal stems from the extra charge, which varies around $2 depending on the price of avocados. Choosing the guacamole scoop is like voting for a levy to raise taxes. Some people do so happily because they know that the benefits will outweigh the costs; some people refuse because they feel that the guacamole, though delicious, is not worth the tax increase; some people just prefer their burrito conservative.

We are now nearing the cash register. In the American tradition of despising taxation without representation, we both opt out of the guacamole.

As reluctant as we are to admit it, the democratic process can get things wrong sometimes. Maybe you asked for just a little sour cream and received a huge dollop. Maybe there is a stray piece of corn mixed in with your portion of mild salsa. The country that reelected George W. Bush cannot claim to be flawless, and neither can Chipotle.

Most of the time, we get it mostly right.

Our personalized masterpieces of democracy are now complete, and we settle down with our favorite soft drinks to begin the arduous task of eating an oversized burrito.

Chipotle, as the land of opportunity, is open to all (unless you don’t have a green card). High school students of every ethnicity flock to its golden doors during lunch periods and between final exams – those tired, those poor, those huddled masses yearning to breathe free. As they choose their rice, their beans, their meat, and their salsa, they also courageously defend the morals of the Declaration of Independence in their personalized pursuit of happiness.

        The symbol of the red chili pepper shines like Lady Liberty’s torch. To millions, it is so much more than an icon: it is a beacon of hope that draws immigrants from every nation in pursuit of the elusive American Dream. The perfect burrito, though equally elusive, is at least tangible. It represents the great triumphs that can arise from the right to choose.

Whether or not you like their guacamole, Chipotle remains a bastion of American individualism and cilantro-lime rice, with liberty and burritos for all.

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