One must be resigned these days to encountering Taco Bell. The fast-food chain (owned by the out-of-state corporation with the audacity to call itself Yum! while also owning KFC, Pizza Hut, A&W and WingStreet) is a ubiquitous presence on the social-media frontier, not to mention on nearly 6,000 street corners in the US. But I find myself reluctant to encounter Taco Bell at the corner of Cerrillos Road and Alta Vista Street.
The 2,600-square-foot Taco Bell just down the street at Cerrillos and Cordova roads apparently no longer satisfies franchise owner Jack Pell: He recently bulldozed the former digs of Chicago Pizza and Pasta, next door to Tecolote Café and across the street from a historically significant building, where he intends to build “the latest and greatest prototype Taco Bell.”
One can only imagine what that means.
Images of the most recently opened Taco Bell franchises in North America indicate that the latest and greatest Taco Bells look a lot like the old Taco Bells or, at least, like all the Taco Bells built since 1993. That’s when the company changed its logo and color scheme in tandem with a marketing push embedded in the sci-fi movie Demolition Man, starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes and, yes, Sandra Bullock. In the future of 2032, the plot contends, Taco Bell is the sole survivor of “the fast-food wars.”
This is a dark future, indeed, if Taco Bell’s current social-media presence is any indication. Taco Bell’s Twitter feed is confined almost exclusively to advertising things such as chicken flatbread and taco party packs, and retweeting others’ comments about the chain, consistently punctuated with “LOL! ;-).” Meanwhile, the company’s Facebook page—“liked” by a tragic 2,747,600 people (at press time)—invokes a marketing scheme even more terrifying than Sylvester Stallone blowing apart Los Angeles 22 years in the future. The Super Delicious Ingredient Force, or SDIF, is a cartoon saga about the misadventures of a multicultural group of superheroes based on Taco Bell ingredients.
The team includes Chicken Woman; Commander Seasoned Beef; a black, British guy called Incredibean, who is clearly rocking what can only be called a bean-fro; and nine other members based on bizarre racial and gender stereotypes. Each cartoon character has its own Facebook page, and often a Twitter account or Flickr stream.
It’s hard to recall another ad campaign this finely targeted at the young and stoned. Then again, characterizing Taco Bell ingredients as costumed superheroes isn’t any more far-fetched than characterizing them as food.
I realize this is kvetching in the least productive way. A new Taco Bell is going to be built regardless, right across the street from the Baca Railyard and from the future Department of Transportation multimodal center and mixed-use development. The hub of connection between the Triangle District and the Baca Street area, two of the city’s most inviting neighborhoods for local entrepreneurship, will be demarcated by a business that thinks outside the bun, but in no way outside the box. It feels like an insult to food, to independent small businesses and to the best uses of the city’s central resources.
I have nothing against Jack Pell or anyone else with the minimum $1.5 million in assets and $750,000 required to open a Taco Bell franchise, but I wish that kind of investing power could be directed at chefs making real, wholesome, nutritious food; at businesses contributing to the local economy; and at entrepreneurial ideas born from local innovators.
Instead, another prime location has been allotted to corporate America, corporate food production, the dissolution of meaningful culture and a mandatory check sent out-of-state for at least 10 percent of profits.
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