I'll never forget the day in San Diego, in 2007, when I stopped into a Taco Bell (because I needed a bathroom) and saw its marketing banner touting "Fourth Meal," its bid to institutionalize a midnight meal into the American ethic. It remains a monument in my thinking to marketing brazenness, and I will never take TB seriously again.
As you may have heard, TB was sued in January by an Alabama firm alleging that its beef is actually only 36 percent meat, and TB has responded aggressively on several fronts, saying its mixture is 88 percent beef and the rest are flavorings. One front is ads urging people to go to its website to see exactly what it puts in its products.
The always-trenchant Melanie Warner questions that strategy, and having done as TB asked and gone to the TB site, I have to agree with her. Its beef ingredients FAQ page does absolutely nothing to improve my opinion of its products. Check out some of the topic headings:
"Is it Grade D meat?"
"Is their sand in your taco meat?" (Heck no, that's not sand, that's "silicon dioxide." Well heck, whyn't you say so?)
"What's the deal with soy lecithin?"
"What about autolyzed yeast extract?"
"Why do you use sodium phosphates?"
"Why the anti-dusting agent?"
"Modified food starch seems weird."
"Do you use oats as filler?" (Yes, we use oats, or, actually, something we like to call "isolated oat product," but it's not filler, so don't call it that, OK?)
For many of these, TB's answer amounts to "shucks, lotsa folks use 'em," as if that ends the discussion. I am not comforted, let alone enticed, by TB's discussion of all these chemicals and what they're in its products for.
And let's remember: Not one of those things is beef!
Though the lawsuit will probably turn on some technicality, as lawsuits so often do, I have no doubt that TB has lost in the court of credibility. Does anyone think that TB food is healthy? Good? Wholesome? Of course not, and its PR forays are only highlighting the details of its crap.