Consider the Taco – My Schadenfreude of Taco Bell

Taco

Oh it’s so difficult not to laugh at Taco Bell today, what with the lawsuit that the meat mixture sold in Taco Bell restaurants had been tested and were found to contain less than 35 per cent beef, with the remainder of the product made up of fillers, binders and extenders.

Of course Taco Bell has denied it, stating in a release the lawyers who filed the lawsuit got their facts wrong and that they take plan to take legal action against those making the allegations.

For the record, the ingredients in their beef mixture are as follows:

Beef, Water, Seasoning: (Isolated Oat Product, Salt, Chili Pepper, Onion Powder, Tomato Powder, Oats (Wheat), Soy Lecithin, Sugar, Spices, Maltodextrin, Soybean Oil,, (Anti-Dusting Agent), Garlic Powder, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Citric Acid, Caramel Color, Cocoa Powder (Processed with Alkei), Silicon Dioxide (Anti-Caking Agent), Natural Flavors, Yeast, Modified Corn Starch, Natural Smoke Flavor), Salt, Sodium Phosphate, Less than 2% of Beef Broth, Potassium Pohosphate, Potassium Lactate

It seems to me that the legal argument is going to come down to at what point in the making of the taco meat does beef become something else? To shape the argument another way, is Beef Chili not really beef, because it’s made with beans, chili spices, onions, and other similar ingredients? It’s easy to take pot shots at Taco Bell, because, let’s face it, their food is crap. But there is a legal question here. Muddying the waters with ledes such as “Yo Quiero Taco Bell: Not if Taco Bell is tainted with fillers?” does no one any good.

Really? “Tainted”? With oat filler? Someone’s getting a tad bit carried away. If Taco Bell meat was chock full of botulism, or was using the meat of infants, then we can throw out the “tainted” word. Until then, settle down and let’s try not to get hysterical, shall we?. Honestly, what surprises me is not that they’re adding oat filler, but that they’re not using corn meal, the more traditional filler that is/can be used in creating taco meat. Using oats sounds less Mexican and more Scottish, quite frankly.

But really, this isn’t the point of this post.

What is funny to me is the response of some of the news feeds that have said something along the lines of “Yeah, so? It’s fast food! Of course it’s made with poor ingredients”, the most egregious example coming from ABC News, with a news report entitled “Do We Expect Too Much From Fast Food?” (WARNING: Media heavy web site.)

Um, people? Tacos are fast food. Not just in the commercial sense, but in the very real, traditional, historical sense. While they have been around for hundreds of years, the Mexican food has evolved into the streetiest of street foods. Its name “taco” is derived from a Spanish word meaning “light snack”. It’s not as if Tacos sit in some hallowed area of food cuisine. Taco Bell, even with their shitty take on tacos, fits squarely in that tradition.

Karen Hursh Graber, in her article Wrap It Up: A Guide to Mexican Street Tacos says the following on tacos in Mexico:

Many foreigners come to Mexico with the idea that they can get tacos any time, but this is not generally true. Looking for tacos around midday, perhaps at the time of the gringo lunch, will not normally be a successful pursuit. Tacos are either a morning treat or a nighttime snack, pretty much disappearing between the hours of noon and six p.m. This is because the main meal in Mexico is eaten in the afternoon. Not to worry: by about six the smell of meat begins to permeate the air and the taquerías are back in business. . .

From noon until about six there are almost no tacos available; morning vendors are closed until the next day. Right around dusk, however, there is a perceptible change in the atmosphere of the street following the afternoon lull. Permanent puestos, stalls and storefront taquerías begin opening, and ambulatory taco carts roll into place, usually connecting the wires from their naked light bulbs into overhead lines. . . The most compelling signal of “taco time”, however, is the aroma. Of all the street food in Mexico, the taco is King of the Night, attracting clients with the appetizing scent of grilled, fried or steamed meat. Since the big meal of the day is eaten in the afternoon, many people opt for a late supper, or cena, and taquerías usually stay open until about midnight, and later in big cities. On weekends, taquerías near discos and clubs stay open until the wee hours of the morning, when they provide welcome sustenance to hungry partygoers.

For those of you who’ve been around a Taco Bell at 2am, know that you’re part of a storied Mexican tradition, albeit with an American bent.

And tacos aren’t like hamburgers, where you have your 99 cent cheeseburger at McDonalds, and the next step up is the 5 dollar cheese
at your local diner. Tacos are cheap by design. Those delicious looking Tacos al Pastor in the picture above? $2.75 at Tacos Guaymas (WARNING: Unnecessary Flash use ahead). Granted, $2.75 is quite a markup from 99 cents, but it’s still in the range of “Good lord, that’s cheap food.”

Do I expect too much from fast food? If you mean, do I expect it to have some measure of quality, even at low prices, then the answer is an emphatic “No!”. It’s one of, no, scratch that, it’s the reason I don’t eat at Taco Bell. I’m lucky enough to live in a city where I can find cheap tacos that are much better than those under scrutiny today.