The Beef With Taco Bell’s Beef

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It’s being widely reported across these great interwebs that Taco Bell’s beef is not what it seems. People are shocked, shocked to discover that the tacos they’d paid less than a dollar for and been heartily scarfing down for nearly half a century fall a little short of what you would normally call “beef.” It seems that “Taco Meat Filling,” as Taco Bell calls it, is actually 36% meat. But is that really all that surprising?

The recent news centers around an Alabama lawsuit filed against Taco Bell. The suit accuses the Tex-Mex giant of false advertising since, according the plaintiffs, the substance Taco Bell calls “beef” does not meat meet the defintion of “beef” or “meat taco filling” as defined by the USDA. But let’s all remember that we’re dealing with the same organization that once tried to define ketchup as a vegetable. Moreover, the USDA’s definition of “meat taco filling” is 40% meat, leaving Taco Bell’s concoction only 4% below, as reported by Gizmodo. Folks, that’s not much of a difference.

While that legal battle moves forward, much attention has been paid the actual ingredients of Taco Bell’s “Taco Meat Filling,” which follows below.

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.

Now, this may be disgusting to some, but it should not be a surprise. To reiterate, these tacos are sold for less than a dollar. Within that price range, it’s unreasonable to expect carefully prepared beef of the finest quality.

Furthermore, it’s worth asking yourself if this is list of ingredients is actually disgusting. To my admittedly untrained eye, this looks like a veggie burger hybrid; coupling some meat for flavor and familiarity with soy and oats for texture. In fact, when comparing the ingredients to a veggie burger, the only ones which stand out as odd are maltodextrin and silicon dioxide (silica), both of which are common food additives.

One way to look at this revelation (read “common sense discovery”) is as a triumph over the stigma of fake meat. Veggie burgers and other fake meat products continue to be a niche product, even as Americans are continually told that they eat more meat than recommended — 20% more according to the USDA (jokes about them aside). But Taco Bell has passed fake meat off for quite a while without anyone being the wiser. True, their food could never be considered a gem of a dietary choice and probably contributes to the over-eating of grains indicated in the same USDA study. Sporting 210 calories (21g carbohydrates, 10g protein, 4 fat), a soft beef taco packs a lot in to a small space. But, for a nation that has become notorious for eating too much meat, it’s almost optimistic that we could have so readily embraced Taco Bell’s “Taco Meat Filling.”

Though it’s hard to say how this story will play out, I can imagine a best case scenario where Taco Bell takes this story and runs with it. Instead of apologizing or “beefing up” their meat mix, I propose they head in the opposite direction: begin offering organic meat/fake meat hybrid products that are targeted to fit within lower-meat diet and sold at a slightly higher price. The same taste you know, but more sustainable and a little better for you as well.

Alternately, and still optimistically, consumers could decide that they are tired of being peddled the lowest quality product and start demanding better food. If they’re willing to pay for ingredients they can live with, perhaps we’ll see more investment in sustainable agriculture and get organic foodstuffs available to the public at reasonable prices.

So folks, let’s all take it down a notch. You always knew that Taco Bell wasn’t top-shelf stuff, and this list of ingredients isn’t nearly as shocking as you might expect. Put down the burning torches and pitchforks, and let’s take a run to the border. It’s almost time for Fourth Meal.

(WTOL via Gizmodo, image via WTOL)

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