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Taco Bell lawsuit draws attention to a major food issue

Why is Taco Bell’s food so cheap? Because its meat filling is only 36 percent beef and full of oat products.

That’s not a joke.

The Alabama law firm Beasley Allen P.C. is pursuing a class-action lawsuit against Taco Bell for falsely advertising its “beef” filling as beef when, according to the firm, it’s mostly fillers and random flavorings – most notably, “isolated oat product” and oats.

Though there’s always been the running gag about mysterious fast-food meat products, I doubt people would have guessed that the meat in their Taco Bell burrito was only one-third real meat.

If the accusation is true, Taco Bell’s filling, by USDA standards, can’t be called “beef.”

In fact, it can’t even be called “meat taco filling,” which is the label used by the USDA for taco fillings that contain at least 40 percent fresh meat.

Unbelievably, Taco Bell fails to meet this very, very low bar.

But why would Taco Bell do such a thing? Why would it take a nice pile of ground beef and thin it out with water, oats and beef flavoring? What purpose does that serve?

When it comes to corporate food manipulation, the answer is simple – profit.

Of course, Taco Bell could use more fresh meat in its filling, perhaps raising the price of a foodstuff from 80 cents to – gasp! – $1. But why would they do that?

It’s worked out perfectly fine for them to ride on the backs of their customers’ sheer apathy about what goes into the food they chow down.

And until now, it’s been a lot like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Except maybe in this case, it would be “don’t ask, and we won’t ever mention that our meat isn’t all that much meat – but hey, thanks for paying more than you should be.”

Granted, the latter doesn’t roll off the tongue as well, but we’ll get that ironed out.

In any event, the president of Taco Bell, Greg Creed, got all worked up, releasing a press statement. Creed notes that the company starts with “100 percent USDA-inspected beef,” and that it is proud of the quality of its beef, identifying all seasonings and spices on the Taco Bell website.

“Unfortunately, the lawyers in this case elected to sue first and ask questions later – and got their ‘facts’ absolutely wrong,” Creed said. “We plan to take legal action for the false statements being made about our food.”

It’s hard to know whether the claims about Taco Bell’s meat filling are true, but it is important to note that the lawsuit does not ask for money, but a correction.

And it’s hard to believe that a law firm would dive into a pricey, time-consuming lawsuit without getting its research straight.

It’s even more unthinkable than the idea that Taco Bell’s meat isn’t mostly meat.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with Taco Bell’s filling. True, it’s kind of a grotesque, Frankensteinian creation, but meat and oats with flavoring doesn’t seem too egregious. And everyone knows that the morning after a regrettable night of drinking, most people will be craving a sour-cream spurting taco with lots of Fire sauce.

The problem here is that if the claims are true, Taco Bell has been flaunting food service legalities to prevent its customers from dealing with unappetizing descriptions of its food.

What sounds better to you, “a crunchy, corn taco shell filled with seasoned ground beef,” or “a crunchy, corn taco shell filled with meat taco filling?”

The bottom line is that if fast food corporations want to serve their customers dirt-cheap food of questionable quality, they should be forthcoming about their ingredients.

A white lie, at day’s end, is still a lie.

It’s our job as consumers to demand the best that can be reasonably offered. No one’s asking Taco Bell to hire Chef Gordon Ramsay to redo its menu, but is it all that much to ask that we be told the truth once in a while?

Though there might not be anything wrong with tacos full of oat-meat, there is something surreptitious about passing them off as a higher-grade product.

Thankfully, Beasley Allen P.C. is willing to ask the question that many of us simply never consider: What the heck are we eating?

Eddie Kim is a sophomore majoring in journalism at the University of Southern California.