Taco Bell’s No-Win Defense
Jan 27, 2011
We should have been suspicious when we heard they called that rat-looking little “Quiero Taco Bell” dog “Senor Filler.”
Ok. That’s unfair, but Taco Bell got themselves into this, and it will be entertaining to watch them dig their way out.
Taco Bell’s statement on the suit alleging its beef ain’t beefy enough fails to convince me. If you’ve been following the story, the charges from the trial attorneys is that they were taking delivery on “taco filling meat” and advertising it as “beef.” If you read the official USDA definitions of what you can and can’t call different stuff, it looks like they’ve been caught with their hands in the oat meal. In fact when you go to their web site, one of the features is a “beefy crunch burrito.”
Maybe they should have to say “beef-like crunch burrito.” The best Taco Bell is going to come out on this is perhaps winning an argument over whether a few percentage points in their mixture lets them legally call it “beef.”
Well, the better best for them might actually be to send a few million to the trial lawyers, change the mixture, and go on. These lawyers—go to their site at http://www.bholaw.com/—may be little more than high dollar ambulance chasers, but they have a track record.
Ok, let me back off. We are getting close to, as Mr. Obama would call it, “relitigating” the intraindustry debate of the 70s, when soy fillers were becoming popular. The argument was over the impact on beef demand. On the one hand, if a 6-oz patty is half soy or oats, you only sell half as much beef. But if you sell twice as many because of improved taste (I kid you not. That’s the claim.) or reduced price, the demand was ok.
The argument I don’t remember us having is that mislabeling thing. Do you want a company marketing mushy-flavored, 40% beef mixtures under your brand name? That’s what the word “beef” is, you know. That’s where the rule came from of course, but nobody enforces it, apparently. Not the government. Not the Beef Checkoff folks.
I have eaten at Taco Bell. Some years back, when our kids were home and selecting the family cuisine based on advertising prowess, I ate there enough to learn to start the conversations like this: “Where do we want to eat and, please, not Taco Bile?”
Once, on a road trip through New Mexico when I was pretty savvy with the state and knew all the local places, we spent a couple of days eating like Spanish royalty along the back roads. New Mexico native cooks can do things with meats and chilis nobody else can do. Tastes that exist nowhere else in the world.
When we caught sight of Las Cruces toward the end, there was a fast food sign—Taco Bell, maybe—and my son said, “Ahhh. At last. Real food.”
So, between that and McNuggets, fast food advertising and much of their food left a long-lingering nasty taste in my mouth. I didn’t know until now—hadn’t thought to ask—that the mushiness I remember from fast food taco “meat” probably wasn’t meat at all. Of course a fast fooder is going to push the ingredient regulations to the legal limit.
The company’s current statement expresses umbrage at the very thought they have misled anybody. But the lawyers have a picture of the box with the ingredient labels. It says it’s taco filling. USDA rules draw a clear distinction between taco filling and beef. So, unless those kids in the plastic gloves are adding beef back to the taco filling, I’m inclined to vote guilty. (Taco Bell, by the way, keeps referring me and apparently others to their official statement. So I suppose that’s the best they’ve got.)
My job here is to look at this on how it impacts beef demand. Taco Bell may sell a lot of filler, but they also sell a lot of beef. So we should wish them no ill. On the other hand, my tongue keeps remembering that texture and it reminds me that price isn’t everything.
My palate is of a different era, though. I am so old I remember when fried chickens had pully bones and milk fat separated in the ice box.
I suppose those of my kids’ generation like different stuff. So I’ll not judge Taco Bell. But it would be nice if they couldn’t just call any old thing “beef.” Those chicken tacos—the ones the law suit says really are chicken—might not be so popular if Taco Bell’s customers’ other choice was the sort of beef—which is made up of, well, beef—that those New Mexico concineros use.