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At Least It’s Food

July 15, 2009

Everybody knows that I care a lot about food.  Some of you may know that I used to work in advertising.  And a subset of those people will be aware I worked for far too long on the Taco Bell account.

And before you ask, no, I had nothing to do with the Chihuahua.  I came on soon after the brand abandoned the popular but ineffective mascot.

Still you may be asking yourself, “How could our Profussor spend his waking hours promoting a fast food company that went against everything he believed in?”  And it’s a fair question.  If you buy me a drink I’ll tell you the answer.

One morning in the shower, before my first big client meeting, I was stricken with panic.  “What will I say if someone asks about my favorite menu item?”

My mind boggled.
In college I ate plenty of Taco Bell.  It was cheap and filling.  It was especially cheap at the Wawa in West Philly.  There I was able to convince most of the clerks to make me a bean burrito and to add “extra beef” for an additional twenty-nine cents, rather than ordering the significantly more expensive beef burrito.

Even then, I never thought the food was good.  It was always a hot sauce delivery device.  I would regularly go through six to eight packets of hot sauce per burrito.  Sometimes more.  Although I admit there was something oddly comforting about the warm mushy goo inside the soft flour tortilla shell.

Back in the shower, and running through the menu in my mind, I realized the food just did not agree with me.  Maybe it had something to do with being old.  Even the chicken, which always felt like the highest quality meat offering, left me with an uneasy feeling in my stomach.  My friends always called it the Taco Bell kick in the gut.

Finally the answer came to me.  My favorite menu item has to be the bean burrito.  Say what you will about it, but at least it’s food.

There is no spongy chicken, oddly tender but gamey steak, or mysterious ground beef poured out of factory sealed boil-in-bag pouches (and don’t try to tell me it’s sous-vide.)  There are only:

1)    Beans – even if they are dried and reconstituted.
2)    Tortilla – a healthy dose of processed white flour every now and then is ok.
3)    Onions – no need for organic on these puppies.
4)    Cheese – at least it’s not cheese sauce.
5)    Red sauce – can’t be anything too scary in red sauce.

I can live with that.  But as it turned out, nobody asked.  Still, it’s always best to be prepared.

After years of dutiful service and months negotiating my exit, I finally transitioned off the Taco Bell business.  And soon thereafter, I read an interesting but brief article in Saveur magazine.  I suspect it was sometime in 2003 (maybe 2004), but I just cannot seem to find any mention the article on the Internet.  I swear it exists.

At the time Saveur was one of my favorite food magazines.  And in their opening salvo, the editors lauded Taco Bell for introducing traditional Mexican flavors of beans and tortillas to a broad American audience.


Granted, they argued the point well, and I cannot do it justice so many years after the fact.  But taking some time to digest their argument, I was able to see the other side of the coin.

And in some ways, I am glad that I did.  At the very least it helps me to justify the occasional bean burrito from Taco Bell – still with plenty of hot sauce packets – but without the foodie guilt.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Anthony Notaro permalink
    July 15, 2009 10:20 am

    The first time I ever met Mr. Fussy we discussed his desire to go into the advertising racket. I asked him why he wanted to be involved in this much maligned profession and his answer (tongue firmly planted in cheek, I am sure) was that he wanted to sell cigarettes to 12-year-olds. I am sure this attitude of detached yet self-effacingly self-aware cynicism served him well during his stint on the Taco Bell account.

  2. July 15, 2009 10:58 am

    What a pleasant surprise.

    I love lists. I crave lists. But lists like the “Top 47” so frequently dissapoint because they don’t really mean anything (or at least don’t tell me what they mean).

    Looking at the list, I began with my usual types of questions: “What is this actually telling me? Would produce treated heavily with one pesticide rank higer or lower than one treated lightly with many? Are there ‘better’ and ‘worse’ pesticides? How is that taken into account?”

    On the verge of deciding it to be relatively dangerous to have “a little knowledge,” I half-hearted clicked on the Methodology link. And, voila! In the bottom paragraph my questions were answered — not in all the detail one might need to make a completely educated decision, but certainly to a satisfactory extent.

    I have now printed the list (which someone else will probably find hidden among their stack of PPT presentations and TAR lists since I’m that annoying person who never gets her stuff off the printer in a timely manner), and it’s on it’s way to a nice home on the fridge.

    What a satisfying break to the morning routine.

  3. brownie permalink
    July 15, 2009 11:23 am

    My God man. Even I, purveyor of all quick-heat, reconstituted, rainforest-raised, vacuum-sealed and fried fast foods, avoid Taco Hell like the plague. The article you refer to has likely been scrubbed from Saveur’s servers to prevent the foul words of a Taco Bell Apologist from corrupting young, impressionable minds.

    My large intestine bubbles at the thought of pasty beans, microwaved tortillas, ground cow hoof and wilted iceberg lettuce. It is too late to save you from painful indigestion, Fussy, but perhaps there are some who will escape the evil bowel clenches of the Bell.

    I like their churros, but overall: yo no quiero.

  4. July 15, 2009 12:26 pm

    There was a time during both my pregnancies when Taco Bell bean burritos were the only thing I could keep down .

  5. phairhead permalink
    July 15, 2009 3:08 pm

    i too HATE fast food and chain restaurants but damn if 2 bean burritos doesn’t make me feel like doing a happy dance : )

  6. Jennifer permalink
    July 20, 2009 1:57 pm

    I tried Taco Bell once. Once was enough.

  7. April 5, 2012 12:46 pm

    I love bean burritos! and chalupas and Mexican pizzas….ahhhh.. my fav “coming home from book club at 10:00, nothing is open and didn’t have any dinner” treat

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