Monday, January 31, 2011

In Defense of Taco Bell: An apologia for the burrito supreme

My first job was at Taco Bell. It was a little store in Lomita, California, and I got the job right after I turned 16--in 1975. When I showed up for the interview, I was ushered by "Mrs. B" (which everyone called her--at her own request) into her closet-sized office near the back of the store.

"Martin," I remember her saying, "you need to remember one thing." I nodded, waiting for the words of wisdom to usher from her lips. "We sell Cadillac food at Volkswagen prices," she declared, proud of her little food establishment.

This, of course, was back in the days when every fourth car was a Volkswagen Bug, and didn't cost much--and when Cadillacs were the luxury cars of choice.

I worked there for a year, and I made more tacos, burritos, enchiritos, and cups of frijoles than I care to remember. In fact, if I were put on the food line once again, I could still do passable job of making most things on the menu. In fact, I have had many excuses over the years for giving the people behind the counter a lecture on how a burrito should be folded, but so far have resisted the temptation.

I acquired a taste for tacos and burritos when I worked there and Taco Bell is my favorite fast food joint.

When I later worked as a short order cook for a coffee shop while working my way through college, I remember thinking how favorably Taco Bell compared with where I was working as far as cleanliness and a few other things were concerned. I saw things there I would never have seen at the Taco Bell I had worked for--and some of those thing moved of their own accord.

One of the things I always took comfort in in eating the food at Taco Bell was that all of it was made there and was pretty basic stuff. A burrito supreme, for example, is just a flour tortilla with beans, meat, sour cream, grated cheese, diced tomatoes, and shredded lettuce.

When I saw the lawsuit that now claims that Taco Bell's meat is only 34 percent beef, I ran back the tape. I remember making the stuff. We'd take basic ground hamburger, put it in a large tray and turn on the gas heat. We would add a packet of seasoning and cook it. When it was done, I would draw off the fat and it was ready to go.

If you had asked us "Where's the beef?" we could, with a fairly high degree of plausibility, have pointed to the meet tray and said, "It's right there." So when I see people claiming that it's not beef, I'm thinking that that can't even be 34 percent true.

Now I'm sure that there have been some changes, but the stuff I get now in a burrito or a taco tastes pretty much the same as what I made when I was a teenager. So when I heard Taco Bell's counter-claim--that its meat is 88 percent beef with "3 percent water, 4 percent Mexican spices and seasonings, 5 percent is made up of oats, yeast, citric acid and other ingredients"--I thought that that pretty much comports my own experience cooking the stuff.

I think this is really just the first skirmish in a larger war against fast food that the Health Nazis are now preparing. They've already taken out trans fats, and they won't stop at that. My theory is that it isn't a lack of beef that really bugs the food activists, but the fact that people are eating beef at all--and french fries, and onion rings, and pizza.

This is a ploy to ultimately eliminate fast food altogether.

These are people won't be happy until we're all non-smoking vegetarians subsisting on tofu and bean sprouts, who power walk in broad daylight with those silly white visors, who won't live in a community without a bike trail, who have small, annoying dogs with foreign names you can't pronounce, and who give their children names like "Weatherby" and "Millicent."

Well listen up, 'cuz I've got news for these Swedish car-driving namby-pambies: I will defend my right to a taco with my life. And if you touch my chalupa, you're goin' down. And my burrito supreme?

You'll have to pry it from my cold dead hands.

17 comments:

Singring said...

'If you had asked us "Where's the beef?" we could, with a fairly high degree of plausibility, have pointed to the meet tray and said, "It's right there." So when I see people claiming that it's not beef, I'm thinking that that can't even be 34 percent true.

Now I'm sure that there have been some changes, but the stuff I get now in a burrito or a taco tastes pretty much the same as what I made when I was a teenager. '

Well there you are then. Case closed. You used to make it and it was different, it tastes the same way to you now as it did back then. That settles it.

Why don't you write the court a letter to save them all a lot of work.

They can file it with the 'if they say they're doing science we ought not question that' letter with which you single-handedly setteled the Ark Park tax dispute and the 'my intuition is that a man should not have sex with anotehr man' letter that destroyed the Prop 8 challenge.

Furthermore, it takes some creativity to turn a single law suit that challenges the accuracy of advertisements into a 'battle' of 'health nazis' against the glories of fast food.

I give you full marks for fantasy literature on that one.

KyCobb said...

Martin,

I think you are overreacting a wee bit. Let the legal process work, and if you are right then Taco Bell will be vindicated.

On your larger point, this nation is suffering an epidemic of obesity and related diseases due to our food choices and lack of exercise. We need to eat better and move more. That doesn't mean we have to become vegans, and its disingenuous to suggest your choice is limited to either grass grazer or carnivore.

Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee said...

It's not about the food, it's about the power. Once we assent to Big Brother telling us what we can or cannot eat, there is no logical stopping point: everything is political, and permission must always be gotten from our betters in Washington on everything we say and do.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

Thats just the kind of anti-government paranoia the Right engages in. The power is in we the people. We elect the government, and if we don't like what they are doing, we can vote them out. This makes them very responsive to our anger. Corporations, on the other hand, don't care about us, only profit. If government is too weak to control them, there is literally nothing they won't do to us if they can make money doing it. Do you really want to put all your trust in unregulated corporations?

Singring said...

'It's not about the food, it's about the power. Once we assent to Big Brother telling us what we can or cannot eat, there is no logical stopping point:'

Who is telling you what to eat?

The suit against Taco Bell is NOT about banning anything! Its about preventing inaccurate advertisement, for crying out loud.

This is emblematic of the level of paranoia in the Tea Party: anything and everything that has to do with any kind of rules and regulations is a attempt to institute 'Big Brother' and is equivalent to fascism. Its absurd, its childlike. Its pathetic.

Lee said...

Well, KyCobb, does it still qualify as paranoia if they really are out to get us?

Unfortunately, We the People don't get to elect most of the people in government who work inexorably, one step at a time, day by day, to make us less free. We don't elect judges. We don't elect bureaucrats. But that's really beside the point. There are things such as, e.g., constitutional rights, which exist precisely to put some things above electoral politics.

Not that that ever stops them from trying.

We actually lost this battle many years ago. Once upon a time, it was believed that the government should have the power to stop you from harming your neighbor, but not the power to stop you from harming yourself. That's no longer a working barrier to government encroachments. The government can already regulate the contents of my blood stream, and does so on a regular basis, by prohibiting me the use of certain drugs they call "narcotics". As singer John Prine puts it, "You may see me tonight with an illegal smile." If it's the government's business whether I'm smoking up on a weed that is all but ubiquitous in many parts of the country, then I guess it's also their business whether I need to lose a few pounds.

Most workplaces already have "health awareness" departments now. So far, it's all suggestions. No enforcement. Yet. I expect with Obamacare, that will change.

> Do you really want to put all your trust in unregulated corporations?

I don't think you understand the role of government in making corporations hard to resist. We can handle corporations just fine: just refuse to buy their products, and they go away. What we can't handle is corporations protected by the government, which is what regulation accomplishes. Lobbyists only have too much power because the government they are lobbying has too much power.

Anonymous said...

Taco Bell apologetics doesn't look much better than Christian apologetics on this blog.

Singring said...

'We don't elect judges. We don't elect bureaucrats.'

They are appointed by whom you elect to office. Its kind of embarassing when a European has to explain the cornerstones of arguably the greatest democratic system on earth to an American.

'Once upon a time, it was believed that the government should have the power to stop you from harming your neighbor, but not the power to stop you from harming yourself.'

1.) Are you actually saying that you want to live in a society where we make it as easy as possible for popel to harm themselves? Really?

2.) Your argumentation is a short-sighted as it is paranoid. If someone is stuffing their face with unhealthy food, they are much more likely to incur health care costs and are less capable of contributing actively to society ins ome areas. Therefore, society has an explicit interest in restricting obvious sources of harm, both to protect the people from themselves, but also to protect others from their actions.

Personally, I wouldn't ban anything that harms your heath. I am for the full legalization of all drugs, including hard drugs - as you are apparently also. I am for legal aclohol and legal cigarettes.

What would I do? I would tax the living daylights out of bad food, drugs, gasoline etc - corresponding to the amount of cost each incurs to society. It would be legal, everyone could shoot up on heroin if tehy wanted, but they would have to pay through their noses to make up for the damage tehy incur.

That's freedom and it makes up for the cost to society.

'We can handle corporations just fine: just refuse to buy their products'

This is naivity beyond all compare. Try going a week without buying gas. Or milk. Or bread. Good luck with that.

There are a lot of goods, especially foods, that we are dependent upon and corporations can do what the heck they like with price and ingredients because they KNOW we have to buy it to survive.

Martin Cothran said...

That's what I love about the peanut gallery on this blog. Even a post on fast food is controversial!

What's interesting is that someone like KyCobb would, on the very same thread, give the very logic that is leading the regulators of our nanny government to make certain foods illegal and then turns around and asserts that anyone who thinks this logic will actually be carried out is delusional.

Right.

They're already going after trans fats. Next up is soft drinks. Maybe KyCobb would care to say why he thinks the logic won't be taken even further.

Singring said...

'Even a post on fast food is controversial!'

It may have something to to do with your use of language Martin. As a German, I bristle at anyone calling others 'Health Nazis'. Not only does it ridiculously demonize an amorphous mass of people you disagree with, it trivializes what Nazis were actually about.

I wonder if you have ever been to Auschwitz or Dachau, Martin? Maybe then calling someone who would like to see people live longer and be more healthy a 'Nazi' would come a bit harder.

Art said...

Well listen up, 'cuz I've got news for these Swedish car-driving namby-pambies: I will defend my right to a taco with my life. And if you touch my chalupa, you're goin' down. And my burrito supreme?

You'll have to pry it from my cold dead hands.


How 'bout that halal burrito supreme, Martin? You know it's coming.

KyCobb said...

Martin,

Trans fats aren't exactly "food". Neither are soft drinks. I don't think the freedoms the founding fathers had in mind included the right to ingest virtual poisons concocted by corporations to taste good then marketed to children so that they acquire a lifetime taste for it until they die of a heart attack or diabetes. The founding fathers had no way of knowing in the 18th century just how powerful and dangerous corporations would grow to be in the 21st century. As I said, if government steps over the line in regulation, we have the power with our votes to reign it back in. We have done that in the past when we realized what a mistake Prohibition was.

Lee said...

> Trans fats aren't exactly "food". Neither are soft drinks

What difference does it make as long as people enjoy eating them? Are people free to eat as they like, or only free to eat as you like?

> I don't think the freedoms the founding fathers had in mind included the right to ingest virtual poisons concocted by corporations to taste good then marketed to children so that they acquire a lifetime taste for it until they die of a heart attack or diabetes.

Most of the rest of us doubt that the founding fathers ever intended the federal government to dictate what we eat. Okay, maybe Hamilton would. If the Constitution doesn't say what you think it ought to say, we have a process to change it. It's called the amendment process. Go forth, young man, and sell your ideas to Congress and the state legislatures. In the meantime, nothing in the Constitution empowers the government to tell us what and what not to eat.

> The founding fathers had no way of knowing in the 18th century just how powerful and dangerous corporations would grow to be in the 21st century.

One of the reasons they're so powerful is they exert influence over the government. And the reason that's effective is the government has assumed so much power.

> As I said, if government steps over the line in regulation, we have the power with our votes to reign it back in

Is this your model for maintaining freedom? Let the federal government should grab all the power it wants and then have it give back only what we can force out of it?

> We have done that in the past when we realized what a mistake Prohibition was.

And it took twenty years to get that freedom back. This is really the model you want?

Bet you weren't talking that way when Bush was president.

What if President Bush had shut down all the newspapers critical of his foreign policy? (The way Woodrow Wilson did.) It might have taken years to get the First Amendment back. But that's okay with you, right? Because all we have to do is rise up and vote him out.

But then, what if his successor, Mr. Obama, decided he liked having that power too? Now what? Another twenty years?

Why don't you come out and say it, KyCobb? Americans are too stupid to run their own lives, and so they need Washington bureaucrats to run their lives for them.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

The government is our servants. They do what our elected representatives tell them to do. Washington D.C. isn't London, and the President isn't George III.

The government has been regulating the food industry for generations. If you think unregulated food from corporations is so great, perhaps you should read "The Jungle".

Lee said...

> The government is our servants.

And we need to keep it that way.

> The government has been regulating the food industry for generations. If you think unregulated food from corporations is so great, perhaps you should read "The Jungle".

So now the government regulates food and nobody ever dies of food poisoning. Right?

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