The seven-layer burrito, as created and sold by Taco Bell, is a wondrous thing.
Available at most locations of the popular fast-food outlet for as little as $1.49, it’s practically a meal in itself. A soft flour tortilla wraps around rice, beans, a blend of three cheeses, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and guacamole, like a protective mother wraps her arms around her children. Spicy scamps that they are, the ingredients try to ooze free as you eat the burrito. But they are doomed instead to satisfy even the heartiest hunger, except maybe for that glob that landed on your shirt.
There is little that one can editorialize against in this marvel of Mexican cuisine. Oh, sure, the food police will tell you that it’s got too much fat or sodium or cholesterol or insect parts-per-million. What they neglect to note, however, is that by ordering it “fresco-style” — with salsa serving as an able replacement for the cheddar, pepper jack and mozzarella cheese sauce — you can cut the fat content by 25%. Also, it has 12 grams of dietary fiber, which sounds like a lot of grams.
Where the editorial board here at DavisW’s blog has a bit of a quibble is with the marketing of the product as “seven layers.” The dictionary defines a layer as “a single thickness of something that lies over or under something or between other similar thicknesses.” Once compressed into its cylindrical casing, the true meaning of “layer” is lost. What arrives through the window of your car at the drive-through is more a mish-mash of ingredients, randomly swirled about by the whims of the burrito’s creator, and by how it is jostled during its journey from the warming tray to your open maw.
Also, the use of the number “seven” to describe the quantity of components is a little misleading. If you count the three different cheeses as separate entities, what you’re actually getting is a ten-layer burrito. One could even make the argument that the tortilla itself should count as a layer, bringing the constituent total to eleven. Why, then, is it not named after a larger and presumably more desirable number?
This probably has to do with the storied history of the meal itself. As far back as the Aztecs, the number seven held mystical properties. When they sacrificed virgins to their primitive gods, all the girls had to be at least seven years old (something to do with what we now know as child labor laws). The ancients measured their year as consisting of seven months of 52 days each. When they slew their enemies in war, they ate the defeated heads as the original seven-layer burrito, oddly counting the nostrils of the nose as two separate ingredients while both the eyes and the ears counted as one item each. The tongue was the original “al fresco” option — warriors could choose to omit it if they were watching their weight.
What concerns those of us who reside in the 21st century is how to order the seven-layer burrito when we want to omit an item or two. Should we ask for a seven-layer burrito without the cheese and sour cream, even though such an omission makes it a less-than-seven-layer burrito? Would it be better to characterize this order as a five-layer burrito, or would that be too confusing for the marginally educated counter staff? Why not start instead from the bottom up, requesting a “zero-layer burrito” with rice, beans, lettuce, tomatoes and guacamole? Or might this prompt them to leave out the tortilla entirely, instead handing you a ball of soggy starches and vegetables unrestrained by an outer casing?
We call on Taco Bell to clarify their position on this issue. Consider an a la carte menu option. Allow us to enter the food preparation area and construct the mass ourselves. Remove any number from the name of the product, and call it simply the “layered burrito.”
Just don’t make us do math — especially subtraction — when all we’re interested in is satisfying a hunger as primal and demanding as those Mesoamerican civilizations of centuries past.