It seems like barely a week goes by without some sort of food controversy making the rounds on the internet. This time around, it’s Taco Bell’s turn with the company taking some lumps over whether the beef in its tacos is actually beef. An Alabama law firm is suing the company’s parent, Yum Brands, alleging that it is selling a product that contains only 35% beef. Taco Bell is, of course, fighting back and says its beef is 88% beef. Here’s a news report:
Wall Street Journal blogger Carl Bialik has weighed in, saying that proving the claims one way or the other is tough when it comes to fast food:
“One problem is that identical ingredient lists can produce different end products, depending on how they are cooked. Cooking meat uncovered, for instance, allows water in the meat to evaporate, while adding a lid but no other ingredients would alter the meat concentration, yielding different test results.”
Bialik goes on to quote a food scientist saying, “This is precisely why they haven’t been able to reverse-engineer Coca-Cola.”
There are actually a few problems with that. Firstly, food scientists can actually reverse engineer any food using mass spectrometers (it’s all in Sex, Bombs and Burgers, folks!), and that includes the formula for Coca-Cola. There have been plenty of educated reconstructions of that particular mystery. Suggesting otherwise is actually baffling – food scientists can recombine the DNA of different organisms to create new ones, so figuring out if something is beef or not is child’s play.
But the other point, which to me seems silly, is the observation that you can use the exact same ingredients that, say, McDonald’s lists for its Big Mac, and still not come up with a Big Mac. Well, duh. That’s sort of like saying you can give me the exact same kind of camera that Ansel Adams used, yet my pictures just don’t turn out as well. There is something to be said for technique, even when it comes to fast food, believe it or not.
Is Taco Bell’s beef actually beef? I have no idea, but I am inclined to give the company the benefit of the doubt. Why would a food chain knowingly sell beef that isn’t really beef if someone could easily figure out that it’s not? Wouldn’t that be a bit of a disaster for the company, especially given that just about every form of fast food – such as chicken nuggets – has already been through this?
The fact is, many people want to believe the worst about fast-food chains such as Taco Bell.