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Taco Bell not the only one trying to pass off factory-produced foods as the real thing

January 29, 2011
  • Tim Rowland
Tim Rowland

I normally don't approve of marginally pointless lawsuits, but in this case I'm willing to make an exception.

A California woman is suing Taco Bell for hinting around that its beef filling might contain some actual beef. Which it does, of course, but only 35 percent's worth, the lawsuit contends. The rest is filler, all the stuff you would expect — corn, soy, oats, and so on. The only thing that really grabs your attention is the "anti-dusting agent."

As is getting to be the case in these matters, the reaction to the news is far more interesting than the news itself:

1. A Miami newspaper noted that Taco Bell had pulled its advertising from a promiscuous television show on MTV, but then made a pretty good argument that Taco Bell is worse for you than the show.

I haven't seen any numbers, but with products that sell for less than a dollar, I'm guessing Taco Bell is about as cheap on a per-calorie basis as you can buy. If you can pull into a drive-through at 1 a.m. and come away with a 10-pound sack of food for less than the price of a movie ticket, the dangerous implications hardly need to be stated.

On the up side, the people who eat at Taco Bell are all about 17 years old, so their metabolisms are still in fairly good shape.

2. A Wall Street Journal blog makes the same point as the one above, but looks at it as a good thing. It argues that if it weren't for Taco Bell, millions of young Americans might starve, or words to that effect.

You are seeing this type of argument more and more from the corporate crowd as it tries to justify the unjustifiable. No lie, I  read a commentary the other day that actually argued that outsourcing our jobs overseas is a good thing, because it allows poor people in the U.S. to be able to obtain cheap, foreign-made goods.

Do these people even hear themselves?

3. The reaction of Taco Bell customers themselves, by contrast, has been refreshingly honest. People are expressing indifference and even relief that the ingredient list wasn't worse. No one is surprised if the beef doesn't have much beef in it; no one goes to Taco Bell to meet their minimum daily requirements of vitamins and minerals.

4. And finally, the reaction of Taco Bell — righteous indignation on one hand, while stifling a yawn with the other — has been priceless. They are horribly, horribly offended that anyone would dare question the integrity of their beef, but not really.

Greg Creed, Taco Bell president: "At Taco Bell, we buy our beef from the same trusted brands you find in the supermarket."

Right. Those same trusted brands that pump their beef full of hormones, steroids chicken offal and antibiotics and raise them in operations whose cleanliness, confinement and overpopulation standards would disgust a cockroach. But we do trust them, he's right about that.

He goes on: "We start with 100 percent USDA-inspected beef." I'm sure they do "start with" beef, in the way that butter pecan ice cream "starts with" a nice, healthy nut.

Creed really could have made a better effort, to my mind, but then I don't think he was trying terribly hard. This will blow over and our eating habits will continue as usual.

As for my own reaction, it is this: Taco Bell has the right to make its taco filling out of whatever it wants, but it shouldn't be called beef — because it gives people the wrong idea about what real, wholesome food should taste like.

There is an entire generation and a half that thinks that real chicken is supposed to taste like the flabby, waterlogged chicken found in most stores. They think that real beef needs a hearty shake of salt to have any flavor. They think real pork should be dry, white and tasteless.

We have been trained by corporate agriculture and fast food joints to think that food must taste a certain way or have a certain consistency — or else there's someting wrong with it.

We've all experienced the difference between home grown and store-bought tomatoes. That's the difference between home grown and factory grown chicken, beef and pork. But take most any little kid and give him a bite of real, healthy, pasture-raised ground beef and a bite of Taco Bell's beef-like substance, and guess which one he's going to tell you is the "real thing?"

We can talk about the child obesity problem and the myriad of adult health problems all we want. But as long as the public thinks that factory-produced foods taste the way food "should" taste, all our efforts at change are just a waste of money and breath.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video  at herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m.

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