Wednesday, March 9, 2011


All the recent hullabaloo surrounding the class action suit filed by an Alabama law firm on behalf of a California woman alleging that the percentage of beef contained in Taco Bell’s beef tacos is, “less than 35%” appears frivolous and a tempest in a teapot - at best. I ask what was the catalyst and eureka moment for filing this suit, (I was eating my taco and noticed that it only contained 35% beef.)? Many people are buying into these allegations while others speculate that this appears on the surface a contrivance and/or premeditated attempt to smear the reputation of Taco Bell. We will see…

Taco Bell is preparing to vigorously defend its reputation. While this plaintiff may suffer the slings and arrows of public indignation after all is said and done, in our PC world the spin will be, I was doing it for the public good. Well, please don’t include me…

I believe that while Taco Bell may have at one time cooked their beef from scratch on site and added their secret ingredients as necessary, they like many other restaurant chains have refined the cooking process so it is more of a heating and assembly activity that can be engaged even by Neanderthals (like me) and great way to maintain the continuity, uniformity and quality of their products. In their quest for providing healthy, quality products a responsible Taco Bell switched to zero trans-fat frying oil in all of its US single-branded locations in 2007 (sister KFC did the same). Doesn’t sound like a company that would compromise their singular branded product by adding excessive and unnecessary fillers. You just don’t screw with success.

The folks that filed this suit have already demonstrated incredible ignorance as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines do not apply to restaurants. The USDA's rules do apply to meat processors - the companies Taco Bell buys its meat from – in this case, Tyson Foods Inc., Taco Bell’s largest meat supplier, who mixes and cooks the meat at three USDA-inspected plants. Tyson Foods in a recent press release vigorously upheld client Taco Bell’s strict production guidelines. As for “scientific testing” how much of a sampling do you need to fairly determine what percent is actually beef? So many questions… If Tyson prepares Taco Bell’s taco beef mix in 100 gallon vats, do you test in that same measure?

Taco Bell has responded that their beef tacos indeed, contain 88% beef with other ingredients including oats. Yes, oats! I was immediately reminded of the magnificent national Scottish dish Haggis that contains a majority percentage (88%+) of lamb and sometimes beef (or other critters and their pieces parts) and oats.

Before we begin yet another grand revelation let me first state that I happen to like Taco Bell’s tacos and most everything else they offer and fully intend to continue my patronage. Great company, good people and great products. Yum, Yum… It appears that while many are already prejudging and deep sixing Taco Bell, we think that these allegations don’t amount to a “hill of refried beans.” and may be the tip of another as yet discernible agenda. We surely hope not though why file a class action and fail to understand basic USDA regulations?

Now, these allegations are specific to Taco Bell and I certainly counsel those interested to keep an open mind and wait for the final verdict. In the interim and in the interests of gastronomic adventure and just another opportunity to have some fun, I do wonder what our other taco filling options might be – aside from continuing to buy what is certainly a quality product from a great company.

My personal favorite is fish tacos (tacos de pescado) from two Dallas restaurants - Rockfish and/or Flying Fish - that do Baja righteously proud. But, we are in the quest for landed mammalian taco filling options. I have noted that our Brothers and Sisters south of the Texas border prepare a wide variety of fillings for their taco shells (corn and flour tortillas - hard and soft) including many fillings that haven’t made it to other parts of the civilized world. I suspect that most have not heard of tacos de cabeza (head) that could include such luscious fillings as brains (sesos), tongue (lengua), cheeks (cachet), lips (trompa) and for you brave of heart and soul - eyes (ojos). Or how about some tripita (tripe/stomach) tacos? All these tacos are typically served steamed and also generally include pico de gallo, onion, cilantro and guacamole. Well, these are not options for this kid.

I look nostalgically homeward to Scotland and to the aforementioned Haggis and think, why not? Haggis in a Shell has a nice ring to it and would be a great way to eat this signature dish. Haggis is one of those dishes in its purest traditional Scottish form that uses offal/pluck (sheep's heart, liver and lungs - all minced), with suet, onions, oatmeal and spices, all boiled in the animal's stomach/paunch (which is not eaten). The recipe can vary, (no, it does not include the oink/bleat/moo as well) and there's even meatless Haggis — which may seem even stranger but if you’ve eaten a vegetarian burrito, then you’ve been there.

In the states we cannot by law properly or accurately replicate real Haggis. In our domain Haggis comes out more like a coarse liver pate that can be made with lamb or beef though still boiled in a stomach or alternative synthetic pouch. Of all the US versions I have tasted the best was from the kitchen of the late Laura “Haggis Queen” Kilpatrick. Her Haggii (look it up) were superb and earned her many kudos including her royal title. With Laura having relinquished her kitchen and now resting comfortably and ruling with a firm hand in Valhalla, we do have earthly options via the very capable and talented Scotophile Jim Walters ('Laird O' tha Haggis', Friend and fellow Templar) and his extraordinary Caledonian Kitchen canned Haggis. He has a full range of Scottish products and we assure you that this Haggis is exceptional and perhaps perfect for filling a taco shell…

Haggis is technically a sausage with generally well over 88% meat and offal though despite some repugnance (born of ignorance) with some of the original ingredients, it is delicious. I’ve tasted the real thing and like it as well or better than our North American version. So why not serve it in a taco shell? No reason at all.

Perhaps I can offer a sometimes perhaps even seasonal revision (Spring?) to Robert Burns’ Ode To A Haggis changing the last line to:

Gie her a Haggis Taco!

And if Taco Bell decides to market this delicacy let’s make sure that with the pico de gallo they offer some neeps and tatties garnished with cilantro, of course.


Ned Buxton

1 comment:

Powder Monkey said...

I will agree Laura's was the best but while she has left us, she did leave her recipe to Heather. Heather's Heavenly Haggis is wonderful. Just thought you would like to know her recipe is still available.