The full-page ad appearing in hundreds of newspapers nationwide this weekend was extraordinary.
“Thank you for suing us,” Taco Bell President Greg Creed told the American public in big, bold type.
Creed and his company, targeted in a lawsuit that claimed the “seasoned beef” used in just about every product the restaurant sells except the soft drinks, were fighting back against the allegation that the meat was diluted. A California litigant claimed the percentage of beef in the taco mixture was as low as 35%, and included additives such as oats and cocoa powder.
“The claims made against Taco Bell and our seasoned beef are absolutely false,” read the ad. “Our beef is 100% USDA inspected.”
Which, to perhaps nitpick the point, doesn’t mean it’s 100% beef. It might be 100% inspected, but so are my toenails every time I cut them, yet I still wouldn’t want them in a burrito.
Creed goes on to address the purity issue with the assertion that “plain ground beef tastes boring” and the only reason they add anything to it is to give the meat “flavor and quality.” Finally, he reveals the real percentages — 88% beef and 12% secret recipe.
The concept of a “secret recipe” is a favorite among corporate food giants. Coca-Cola became a huge hit with a thirsty 19th-century America, in part because one of its secret ingredients was highly addictive cocaine. KFC’s fried chicken rose to prominence with intimations that its “secret blend of 11 herbs and spices” would improve your sex life, grow hair on your bald spot and make you popular, at least with your non-chicken friends.
The apparent reason Taco Bell is grateful for being hauled into U.S. District Court is that it will have the opportunity for justice to be served, not from a drive-through window by a surly teenager, but in a proper court of law. There, they will have the chance to explain why caramelized sugar, yeast, citric acid and unspecified “Mexican spices and flavors” (whatever happened to your gardener, anyway?) are required to turn pure beef into something more palatable.
The surprising aspect of all this is that anybody who’s a regular Taco Bell customer cares a whit about purety, quality and truth in advertising. Most of us go for the adventure. It’s a “run for the border” where we’ll “think outside the bun” while enjoying our “fourth meal”. We understand that menu items priced as low as 59 cents could be a shot in the dark, yet still we’re grateful someone is removing possum carcasses from the road, now that city maintenance crews are dealing with budget shortfalls.
“If it’s the same stuff they’ve always been selling and I’ve eaten it before, I’ll eat it again,” said Mike Podlasek, a Chicago sales manager and regular customer. “The only way that I would probably stay away is if they were saying there was salmonella in there or something.”
The ad concludes with the company’s promise to “stand behind the quality of our seasoned beef 100%,” again hoping customers might confuse 100% standing with 100% beef.
“We are proud to serve it in all our restaurants,” Creed concludes. “We take any claims to the contrary very seriously and plan to take legal action against those who have made false claims against our seasoned beef.”
As I was saying, hats off to Taco Bell for clearing the air on this issue and getting the truth out to the taco-eating public. It’s only through an open and honest release of information that consumers can once again feel comfortable enjoying your savory gorditas, chalupas, burritos and nachos, at least for the thirty or so minutes it takes for them to enter the duodenom.
And thank you, Taco Bell, for not suing me.