Santa Fe’s new Taco Bell lurks among historic and innovative new buildings at the gateway to the Baca Railyard and downtown Santa Fe like a tumor among pearls. The pitched battle of the faux-dobe’s stucco hues reads like a cage match between market-researched fashion mistakes. The faux-hovering, faux-campanario elements of the structure are basically faux-architectural filler, and now a class-action lawsuit is accusing the fast-food taco purveyor of serving faux meat.
Specifically, an Alabama law firm has alleged that Taco Bell is guilty of false advertising when it promotes items containing “seasoned beef” and “seasoned ground beef.” According to the United States Department of Agriculture, beef is defined as “flesh of cattle,” and anything sold as beef must consist of only that with no more than 30 percent fat and no added water, phosphates, binders or extenders.
The lawsuit alleges that Taco Bell’s “beef” contains only 36 percent beef. The other 64 percent is “water, isolated oat product, salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, oats (wheat), soy lecithin, sugar, spices, maltodextrin (a polysaccharide that is absorbed as glucose), soybean oil (anti-dusting agent), garlic powder, autolyzed yeast extract, citric acid, caramel color, cocoa powder, silicon dioxide (anti-caking agent), natural flavors, yeast, modified corn starch, natural smoke flavor, salt, sodium phosphate, less than 2% of beef broth, potassium phosphate, and potassium lactate.”
The lawsuit also notes that, internally, Taco Bell packages this, um, stuff, as “taco meat filling.” But even that may present a problem: The USDA has a definition for “meat filling” too, and it demands at least 40 percent fresh meat. If the Alabama lawsuit is correct, Taco Bell is falling short of that benchmark as well, although it appears to be overachieving in terms of potentially harmful preservatives and alarming corn, soy and sugar byproducts.
No wonder home cooks can’t replicate that famous Taco Bell “flavor.”
Taco Bell, of course, is lawyered up 24/7 and has released a non-denial denial and a pledge to sue the filling out of anyone who makes “false statements” about their “food.” Greg Creed, president and—get this—chief concept officer for Taco Bell says, “the lawyers in this case…got their ‘facts’ absolutely wrong.” But Creed declines to detail how the allegations are wrong; he simply points out that Taco Bell buys its beef from “the same trusted brands you do in the supermarket, like Tyson Foods.”
Of course there’s no mention of what becomes of that beef after it’s purchased. Nor is there mention of Tyson Foods’ long history of felony violations of the Clean Water Act; its employment of undocumented workers; its attempt to hide its use of antibiotics in poultry plants; its workplace environment that included, in one instance, a “whites only” sign over a bathroom door; and its refusal to submit its beef to certain E coli testing. If Tyson Foods is what Taco Bell considers a “trusted” brand, maybe Taco Bell ain’t that trustworthy either.
What’s the end result for the franchise in Santa Fe? Not much. I try to shield my eyes when I’m forced to pass by the new Taco Bell, but the parking lot looks plenty full. If Taco Bell were legally forced to replace “beef” with “a bunch of random shit in a tortilla,” I doubt it would even register with most consumers.
What consumers may notice is a strangely timed admission that Taco Bell chooses less flesh—at least certain kinds of flesh. The company pulled its advertising from the new MTV show Skins during the same week the lawsuit was filed. Apparently, Taco Bell feels that frank shows about teen sexuality should focus less on flesh and more on, er, artificial extenders.
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