The DC Chinatown Panera (courtesy My Iphone)
The D.C. Chinatown Panera (courtesy my iPphone)

Apparently, this has been going on for some time, but I spotted it for the first time today. In further Dubious Advertising Choices, Henry David Thoreau is in your Panera sign.

“Drink the drink, taste the fruit. — Henry David Thoreau,” says the sign.

Really, Panera?

This isn’t the first time something has been taken out of context and flung into an ad, but it just seems especially grating given Thoreau’s life story and the tenor of his writings. He sought solitude, self-sufficiency and contemplation — as long as he was within driving distance of a Panera! Gotta get that Fat-Free Superfruit Power With Ginseng! “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” — but save room for that Chipotle Chicken! “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away — but not away from the Signature Cuban Chicken Panini!”

And if you read the actual passage from Thoreau’s journal in which he advocates “Drink the drink, taste the fruit” he writes:

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each. Let them be your only diet drink and botanical medicines. In August live on berries, not dried meats and pemmican, as if you were on shipboard making your way through a waste ocean, or in a northern desert…. Drink the wines, not of your bottling, but Nature’s bottling; not kept in goat-skins or pig-skins, but the skins of a myriad fair berries. Let Nature do your bottling and your preserving.

So the very phrase being used to advertise whatever beverage Panera is selling at hundreds of locations is Thoreau saying you should avoid foods not taken directly from nature. “Let Panera do your bottling and your preserving” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Look, I appreciate its effort to promote fresh foods. But leave the Thoreau quotes in the woods and on tasteless embroidered souvenir cushions, where they belong.

I find it incredible that  people keep taking things and using them to advertise their exact opposites. Last week, it was Rosie the Riveter mopping. Next we’ll have George Orwell marketing surveillance systems, or Aldous Huxley’s smiling face on the side of Prozac bottles — “A gramme is better than a damn!” There are some Emerson quotes that would work pretty well for paint thinner (“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”). I’m not opposed to all quote appropriation. If you really want to sell your T-shirts by announcing that “Something is Cotton in the state of Denmark!” I am not about to stop you. I will leave that to the free market. But at least make sure the line and the reference you’re using to sell your product doesn’t directly contradict the whole premise. That’s all I ask, really.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.