Do You Know What You’re Eating? Do You Care?

Did you know that Darth Vader loves hot dogs?

He’s also a BIG fan of Taco Bell. Huge.

Now, do you think he REALLY knows what he’s eating when chomping down on these “foods”?  More importantly, do you think this Sith lord actually CARES what he’s eating?

Today’s post is going to be a slight departure from normal NF articles, as I want this to be more a discussion about what we eat, why we eat it, and how our eating decisions are made.  If you’ve been following the news recently, you’ll see where this is going.  Ready?

Doing my best Super Mario impression: “Here we gooooo!”

Do you know what you’re eating?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (which would be quite impressive), you probably heard about all of the commotion this week regarding Taco Bell’s “ground beef” and what it’s actually made of. To summarize: a Florida woman has filed a class-action law suit against the restaurant for false advertising; she alleges that the ground beef used in Taco Bell products is comprised of only 36% beef.

Thirty-six percent!

If that’s true, what is it actually made of? According to the actual Taco Bell ingredients label listed here on Gizmodo:

Beef, 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.

Look, I love oats and anti-dusting agents in my ground beef as much as the next guy, but good lord. As stated on Gizmodo, this bin LABELED BY TACO BELL as “taco meat filling” is then shipped out to stores and promoted as “ground beef” (which it shouldn’t be by definition).  To make matters worse, according to the USDA “any food labeled as ‘meat taco filling’ should at least have 40% fresh meat.”

It looks like Taco Bell shouldn’t even be allowed to call its beef “taco meat filling!”

Mark Sisson (of the fantastic site Mark’s Daily Apple) published an open letter to Taco Bell asking them, among other requests, to let people know what they’re actually eating.  The crazy part?  He wrote this article a year ago.

Obviously, stories like this lawsuit attacking Taco Bell are just one of many that have attempted to shed light on the actual “food” we eat:

  • “Food, Inc.,” a documentary released in 2008, pulled the curtain back on industrial America’s shady food practices in an effort to maximize profits. The documentary called for consumers to start voting with their dollars by demanding higher quality products, purchasing locally-grown food, and asking for more transparency when it comes to the procedures used to create the stuff with which we feed ourselves and our families.
  • King Corn, filmed in 2007, showed just how much of what we eat is composed of corn, and how incredibly subsidized our country’s corn farmers are by the United States government. It’s no wonder our waistlines continue to expand and we continue to get less healthy as more and more of what we eat is created out of corn and corn byproducts.

Watching these documentaries and reading “horror stories” about the things we eat can be quite eye-opening…if you want them to be.  Which brings me to my next point:

Do you care?

I’m interested to see if Taco Bell’s profits take a dive after this recent lawsuit - I have to imagine that the majority of folks who are eating Taco Bell regularly aren’t really interested what the food is made of, as long as it continues to taste good and remains cheap.

Come on, when you can get a drink, bag of chips, and fifteen-pound burrito with 10 types of cheese (that’s what they’re up to now, right?) for three bucks, are you really worried that it’s not the healthiest thing in the world for you?

People choose to eat at fast food restaurants or select the cheaper foods at their grocery store for a number of reasons:

  1. They’re on a budget - why go home and cook a meal of high quality food that costs a lot of money (and takes far more time) when you can get it instantly through a drive-through window for far cheaper?  If you have to feed a family, you try to get the most caloric bang for your buck.
  2. They don’t know any better – if Taco Bell is out passing off this stuff as “seasoned ground beef” when it’s actually not, then what else is out there that we aren’t being told the truth about? Ignorant customers remain happy customers.
  3. They just don’t care - hot dogs (made up of anything), fast food tacos, burgers, whatever: these folks know what they’re eating, they don’t care what the ingredients are, they just want to eat the food because it tastes good.

My thoughts

To be honest, I can’t really say that I’m surprised about the lawsuit - there’s no way that Taco Bell could have been making any sort of profit with a 99-cent burrito unless it was made with less than quality ingredients.  The same goes for the products that cost less than a dollar at restaurants like Burger King and McDonald’s.  Hopefully this isn’t a surprise to anyone.

Also, I can’t say that I fault the companies for trying to make a profit either – that’s their job as producers.  For all I care, they can put cat food in their tacos if it allows them to make more money in the upcoming fiscal year.  Where I can fault them is for false advertising.  In my opinion, I think everything sold should be labeled with EVERY ingredient, where it came from, and how many calories it has.

Referencing the Matrix, a movie I’ve covered in previous articles, I can’t agree with Cypher’s statement that “ignorance is bliss” in this scenario. Unfortunately when dealing with the foods that we consume, what we don’t know CAN kill us (and is killing us).  If a real world exists outside of the Matrix (red pill or blue pill?), I believe everybody should be allowed to choose for themselves which type of existence they prefer.

LABEL EVERYTHING and let the consumers decide.

My fast food relationship: I’ve had Taco Bell a few times in my life, but the last time resulted in feeling like I had a brick in my stomach on a 14-hour drive across Texas.  I haven’t had a burger from McDonald’s since I was probably 12, a burger from Wendy’s since college, or a burger from Burger King since 2006.  I’ll still eat chicken nuggets from Chic-Fil-A if I need a meal on the road (maybe once every two months), and have had Chicken Selects from McDonald’s on rare occasions when there are no other options (every six months).  I know that this chicken certainly isn’t free-range home grown organic, but I feel like it’s better than the beef alternatives (which it may or may not be…weird to think about).

I’ve had my share of meatball subs from Subway (which I’m sure isn’t much better than Taco Bell beef), but I’ve slowly but surely scaled back my ignorant consumption of foods by trying to be smarter about where I stop when I don’t have any other options.

Ultimately, I try to do the best I can. I try to buy organic vegetables, I try to buy grass-fed beef if I can afford it at the time, and I do my best to cook my own meals or grab healthy snacks (like almond butter on apples) instead of resorting to fast-food.

I encourage you to do the same: understand that ignorance is not bliss, that we do have a chance to vote with our dollars by purchasing the highest quality food our budget affords us, and that it’s not these company’s fault for trying to make a profit – it’s our fault for expecting anything more out of them than low-quality food produced for mass consumption.

What Say You?

So, were you a Taco Bell eater before this lawsuit? Has it changed your eating habits in any way?

Do you eat certain fast foods over others? How about Chinese food? How do you make your decision?

Do you know what you’re eating?

Do You Care?

-Steve

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  • http://twitter.com/LithograPhox Nica

    Hm, well I’m feeling slightly more nauseous than I was in the beginning. However, this only cements my decision to not eat fast food ever just because ‘it’s convenient’. I don’t think I’ll be able to eat it now, because before I take a bite I’m going to wonder “What is this, anyway?” and then it just won’t taste write. Sort of like the time when I was eating ravioli and somebody was talking about tapeworms; I picked all the meat out it and wouldn’t eat it. Aah, having a stupidly paranoid brain can be good sometimes…

  • Coralcb

     

  • Rosslyn12

    I’m more careful about what I eat. Hot dogs- I love them but they’re full of weirdness. So I don’t eat them very often, and my hot dog of choice when I do is Hebrew National, non-lowered-fat Beef.
    No fillers, way less weird crap, and only kosher animal bits. I don’t trust the FDA nearly as much as I trust rabbis whose job it is to make sure their food is pure kosher and includes nothing unclean by kosher standards. This, I believe, makes for a much better Hot Dog.
    Do not buy the Low Fat or 98% fat kind- those do not have the label of No Fillers because when the food industry removes Fat, they replace it with Starch. Animal fat does not often make me gain body fat, but Starch always does.

    As for getting food cheap- Window boxes, Farmers Markets, fruit stands. Amen!