Where's the Beef?

Column by Michael Kleen.
Exclusive to STR
By all accounts, Taco Bell is a story of success. Since Glen Bell opened the first Taco Bell in Downey, California in 1962, the franchise has expanded to 6,446 restaurants with over 175,000 employees worldwide. In 2009, the company (which is currently owned by Yum! Brands) brought in $1.9 billion in revenue. It is no secret why this restaurant has experienced such growth. Like its rivals in the fast food industry, Taco Bell specializes in offering meals to its customers at the cheapest possible price. Today, the company is under attack by a publicity-seeking law firm and a media that is all-too-eager to exploit any potential controversy, no matter how frivolous. What should be a story about how a private business feeds millions of people for what amounts to pocket change is instead a pseudo-investigation into what qualifies as ground beef.
No one has ever gone into a Taco Bell under the illusion that they were purchasing quality food, because we are all aware that you cannot stuff 460 calories into a burrito and charge 99 cents without sacrificing something. Its cheapness is the foundation of its appeal, and even the company acknowledges this fact with its advertising slogans “Big Variety, Small Price,” and “Why Pay More?” The choice to offer quantity over quality has not come without damage to its reputation, however. For years, people have made jokes about the poor quality of their food and speculated about “what was really in the meat,” but over 36.8 million customers in the United States continue to eat there every week anyway.
On January 19, Montgomery-based law firm Beasley Allen filed a class action lawsuit in a California court alleging that Taco Bell’s beef does not meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s minimum requirements to be defined as “beef,” and that therefore the company is guilty of false advertising. Taking actions that I myself have advocated in a previous column, Beasley Allen had Taco Bell’s “meat mixture” independently tested and found it to contain less than 35 percent beef. Other ingredients include water, wheat oats, soy, maltodextrin, anti-dusting agent, corn starch, and silicon dioxide. Wheat oats and soy are both perfectly edible and inoffensive, and maltodextrin (though it sounds bad) is a food additive made from starch found in dried taco seasoning as well as soda, candy, and even beer. Silicon dioxide is a common food additive used to prevent ingredients from coagulating.
Unlike lawsuits related to food safety, however, this particular lawsuit is a farcical use of the legal system with no basis in consumer protection. On its website, Taco Bell displays all ingredients, along with nutrition information, for every item on the menu. There is no secret to what is in its “meat mixture.” The only real basis for this lawsuit, the 35 percent ratio of beef to other ingredients, involves, frankly, a bizarre and arbitrary guideline established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which allows for at least 40 percent meat in any products labeled “meat.” Once you allow for anything less than 100 percent of a product to be defined as that product, what does it really matter what percentage it is? According to the USDA, I could concoct a mixture consisting of 40 percent ground beef and 60 percent cookie dough and call it meat. This says more about uselessness of the USDA as a regulatory body than it does about Taco Bell’s ingredients.
As a company, Taco Bell is transparent about its products. Anyone at any time can go on its website, or do a little research, and find out what is being stuffed in their tacos. None of the ingredients are harmful, and no one has ever been led to believe that they are eating a gourmet meal when they go there. Ground beef is expensive, and so fillers like wheat and soy are mixed in to get the most out of their product. That is why a taco at Taco Bell is so much cheaper than one at Chipotle. One restaurant offers quantity and the other offers quality, but you get what you pay for and there is plenty of room in the marketplace for both.
We should be celebrating the fact that innovation and entrepreneurship has brought a wide variety of food options to the table for people of all economic backgrounds, and not attacking a company for providing cheap food at a cheap price. Instead, law firms should focus their litigation on serious issues of food safety and workplace standards in fast food establishments. How much beef is in a Taco Bell taco? Less than 99 cents worth, and that’s all anyone has ever paid for. 

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Michael Kleen's picture
Columns on STR: 36

Michael Kleen is the Editor-in-Chief of Untimely Meditations, publisher of Black Oak Presents, and proprietor of Black Oak Media. He holds a M.A. in History and a M.S. in Education, and is the author of Statism and its Discontents, a collection of columns on the topics of Statism, liberty, and their conflict. His columns have appeared in a variety of publications and websites, including Strike-the-Root.


Suverans2's picture

Perhaps a better way to say it, Michael Kleen, would be to say that "it is no more harmful than virtually any other fast food restaurant". What little beef they do use has been fed genetically modified organisms (particularly corn and soy) and rgBH/rBST growth hormones, and has had a steady diet of antibiotics since its nativity because of the unsanitary conditions in which the cattle are housed (CAFO), and the whole thing is seasoned with monosodium glutamate (msg). And, the soy they use as a filler is also a genetically modified organism. If you trust the government, (which gives you subsidized health care), their FDA says all this stuff is harmless. If you are not eligible for government entitlements, such as subsidized health care, as we are not, you might want to do your utmost to avoid this toxic nightmare. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Suverans2's picture

Avoiding gmo's is made even more difficult because your government's FDA says it's subsidiary corporations, (the food manufacturers), do not have to disclose these genetically modified organisms, as such, to the end users, as most, (if not all), European food processors voluntarily do. If we are to have "free choice" in whether to eat this sh*t or not, truthful labeling is a necessity.

B.R. Merrick's picture

I don't see what the big deal about a 35% ratio is. Most politicians' heads are only 35% meat.


In all seriousness, and in complete agreement with Suverans2, I must say that I have eaten and enjoyed Taco Bell many times in the past, even after I heard a rumor about some rather disgusting conditions that I will not repeat, since I can't substantiate it.

I believe much of what is said about how hot dogs are prepared, how food is mishandled, and I've probably eaten in more than one restaurant where my food was dropped in the kitchen, or where some waitress perhaps spit on it. These thoughts are frequently in my head, right along with the fact that every carrot I eat comes out of soil made of dead people, animals, excrement, insects, and plants. Food is gross. What happens to it after we eat it is even grosser.

But Suverans2 is right. An ounce of prevention. Unfortunately for me, I HATE shopping and I HATE preparing food. I'll probably eat some unhealthy Taco Bell again. And again and again.


Michael Kleen's picture

Well said, Merrick. I guess what bothers me the most about this is that this law firm is choosing to pursue a ridiculous issue rather than something more useful to the general public, like concerns about health and safety. I don't think the people who eat at Taco Bell care what percentage meat is in their taco filling, as long as it tastes good, it's cheap, and it doesn't make them sick. I know I don't.

tzo's picture

Well, one might imagine that the law firm was nudged into action by someone like, oh, Burger King, in an attempt to use political power to fight competition.

I also believe most law firms exist to make money, not help society. Just like Taco Bell.

Suverans2's picture


Suverans2's picture

As long as it doesn't make you sick, Michael?

"For all you who continually chow down on such stuff, I'm sorry that you have chosen to leave the party early. But it's your call. ¡Salud!" ~ tzo [Emphasis added]

The farmer grinned as he told the visitor, “Watch this!” He called his pigs, which ran frantically towards him to be fed. But when he scooped out corn and threw it on the ground, the pigs sniffed it and then looked up at the farmer with confused expectation. The farmer then scooped corn from another bin and flung it near the pigs, which ran over and quickly devoured it.

The farmer said, “The first corn is genetically engineered. They won’t touch it.” Pigs Won't Eat GMO Corn, Are they Smarter than Us?"

The Health Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods

"The Health Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods"

Seeds of Deception

And this is to say nothing about what unleashing these genetically modified organisms may do to the environment. They have already crossed into their wild cousins and we now have "super weeds"

You want to understand their agenda, Michael Kleen, well, here it is, straight from the horse's ass, er-r-r mouth, straight from one of the most diabolical gurus[1] of your government.

"Control the oil and you can control entire Continents. Control food and you control people…" ~ "Henry KISSINGER"

While many of us are busy playing politics, which is a King in the deck of cards called life, the ruling elite are playing an Ace, gaining control of the world's food [and water] supply.

"Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation" and subject of this review. It's the diabolical story of how Washington and four Anglo-American agribusiness giants plan world domination by patenting life forms to gain worldwide control of our food supply and why that prospect is chilling. The book's compelling contents are reviewed below in-depth so readers will know the type future Henry Kissinger had in mind in 1970 when he said: "Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people."

[1] One observer described Henry KISSINGER, at the time, as "like sludge out of a swamp without a spark of life....no soul, a slip of life, a kind of ghoul (and) a sort of lubricant (to keep the ship of state running)." (Ibid.)

Suverans2's picture

"I guess what bothers me the most about this is that this law firm is choosing to pursue a ridiculous issue rather than something more useful to the general public, like concerns about health and safety." ~ Michael Kleen

"Food safety and public health issues aren't considered vital if they conflict with profits. So the entire population is being used as lab rats for these completely new, untested and potentially hazardous products. And leading the effort to develop them is a company with a "long record of fraud, cover-up, bribery," deceit and disdain for the public interest - Monsanto." ~ Stephen Lendman excerpted from his review of Seeds Of Destruction by F. William Engdahl for rense.com

tzo's picture

In a society lobotomized by government nannyism, trust in FDA- and USDA-approved labeling is a given.







This is simply government merging with corporations to rip off people who trust the government experts. If the law says that Taco Bell can call it beef if it contains 10% beef, then that is OK as well? 5%? 1% Well, fruit juice drinks only need to have 10% fruit juice, so why not?

The reason why it says beef on the label is that they know that 99% of everyone will think it is 100% beef. The law allows them to deceive and make money off of floor sweepings. I do not believe that this would emerge in a free market. People used to get run out of town for adding sugar to beer or watering down milk.

But now we have the government to watch out for us, so we don't have to worry. Just make it yummy, please! And thanks for the nifty lobotomy!

If it were legal to have a touch of arsenic in each serving, would that be OK? Still tastes yummy, and you don't get immediately sick. Sure, it'll kill you in the long run, but, well, I don't know how to finish that sentence.

But arsenic is a known poison, and therefore cannot be put into the food supply, like, say, fluoride. Gee, I guess I got carried away with my analogy there. Sorry.

For all you who continually chow down on such stuff, I'm sorry that you have chosen to leave the party early. But it's your call. ¡Salud!

Suverans2's picture

Well said! (Great links, too! Well, all but this one http://caloriecount.about.com/oh-god-splenda-calories-packet-ft44937) Thanks

tzo's picture

I dunno, I really liked this one because it shows how clueless people are and how betrayed they feel when they accidentally discover something like this. That and all the people who think they have the right answers.

tzo's picture

"but i dont understand. they aren't allowed to make the box say 0 calories if there are really four right? "