Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
15 Jan

An Open Letter to Taco Bell

Picture3 5Dear Taco Bell,

It has come to my attention that you have recently created a Drive-Thru Diet. You are clearly taking bold new steps to change the way Americans view healthy eating, so I am writing this letter to express my gratitude and enthusiasm and to offer insight for further improvement.

I first noticed your “Drive-Thru Diet” ad on a billboard outside of a childrens’ extra-curricular learning studio in west Los Angeles. Ever the inquiring mind, I visited Tacobell.com for some heavy research. I read Christine Dougherty’s 80 word story about losing 50 lbs over 2 years with Taco Bell. Very convincing. Then I watched TV personality Chris Rose interview four paid actors, and every single actor praised Taco Bell’s seven healthy Fresco menu items. Next I learned from registered dietitian Ruth Carey that some food choices are nutritionally better than others. These people clearly weren’t lying. The Drive-Thru Diet looked legitimate, so I decided to make a Frescolution. I hit a road block when attempting to fill out my pledge. The form required me to fill out “what I know.” I attempted to write, “I live a healthy lifestyle based on the 10 immutable Primal laws validated by two million years of human evolution…,” but Taco Bell overrode that with, “My idea of exercise involves the all-you-can-eat buffet marathon.” Oh well, I suppose what I know isn’t nearly as important as eating Taco Bell Fresco menu items.

So here I am, having soaked up the thorough and detailed information on your website, almost ready to embark on my two year plan of eating Taco Bell food every day. However, I have a few simple questions before starting such an exciting, healthy journey.

First, I am slightly confused by the math of calorie reduction. I understand that a Fresco taco is 20 calories less than a regular taco (kudos for that feat of engineering!). If I am trying to reduce my daily consumption by 500 calories by eating Fresco tacos rather than regular tacos, does that mean I need to eat 25 Fresco tacos a day? (20 calorie reduction x 25 = 500 calorie reduction). That means I need to eat roughly six tacos a meal, including, of course, fourthmeal. Speaking of which…

I am still trying to work out the logistics of fourthmeal. If I eat fourthmeal after midnight, is it technically firstmeal? In calculating daily calories, which day does fourthmeal count for? If I eat fourthmeal at the stroke of midnight, does it count for both days or neither? And also, if I eat fourthmeal every day, when do I sleep?

Finally, what exactly did Christine eat? If I know the combination of Taco Bell choices she made, I would feel much more confident moving forward. Did she keep a food log?

Once you have answered my questions, I will be delighted to fulfill my Frescolution.

Additionally, while I have no criticism of your company or your dietary philosophy, I do see room for improvement in your quest to convert American eaters into healthy decision makers. Below, I’ve listed a few possible menu adjustments…

1. A “Sans Queso!”option

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After close scrutiny of your seven Fresco menu items, I discovered the secret to your revolutionary way of creating healthy foods: You replace the cheese with tomatoes. I’m no food lab scientist, but with careful engineering it seems you could apply the Cheese Removal Principle to not just seven menu items, but to every single product you offer. Call it “Sans Queso!” and you’ve got an entire menu full of super-healthy foods. Want a healthy Mexican pizza? Sans Qeuso! it. Sans queso! that volcano nachos and you’ve turned a 1,000 calorie item into a 920 calorie health food. It’s not a reduction of quantity, it’s an upgrade of health. You can even charge an extra thirty cents to Sans Queso! a food. The new anti-supersize.

2. A calorie total at purchase – All your food items have calorie amounts the same as they have prices. How hard would it be to include a function on the cash register that adds up the total calories of the foods purchased and prints it on the receipt? Heck, take it a step further and tell the customer directly, “Your total is $8.76 and your calorie total is 2,400. Would you like to Sans Queso! your meal for an extra thirty cents?” Bam. Satisfied customer, more profit, and less wasted ingredients. Is that genius or what?

3. Salsa – I’m not one to make rude accusations, but it does occur to me that you are a Mexican restaurant without a salsa bar. I do respect your little border sauce packets of modified food starch, autolyzed yeast extract, sugar, onion juice, and xantham gum, but including a secondary option of fresh chopped tomatoes, onions, and tomatillas could improve both taste and the amount of nutrients your customers consume. So get yourself a salsa bar. People like salsa and they like bars, it’s a win-win.

4. An “UnFried Salad” – The traditional Taco Bell Mexican salad sits in an edible bowl of fried enriched bleached flour and corn. That fried bowl sits in a second, plastic bowl. I suggest removing the edible bowl and placing the salad directly into the plastic bowl. You may have concerns about the way customers will react to this “one bowl” concept. The problem can be solved easily by using a “do not eat this bowl” warning label. Fill the plastic bowl with a bed of lettuce, grilled chicken, salsa from your newly installed salsa bar, and a couple slices of avocado (the fresh kind, not the green stuff I’ve seen your employees squeeze out of a caulking gun) That’s a healthy menu item if ever there was one. Sans Queso! that salad for thirty cents and make it even healthier.

5. Water – I can’t help but notice the 32 oz cup of Diet Pepsi that accompanies all the pictures of your Fresco menu foods. Have you considered creating a 32 oz cup that says, “Water!” I’ve never seen a fast food water cup before. Taco Bell could be the first.

6. Rename all products according to the Gordita methodology

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I’d never heard of a Gordita before you added one to your menu. I had to pull out the old translation dictionary to learn that “gordita” is Spanish for “chubby.” What a brilliant concept! Right there in the name of the food you’ve included a warning for how the food will make you look and feel. I love it! You should rename other menu items to include similar warnings. A nacho bell grande could be called an “estomago grande,” a caramel empanada could be a “caramel diabetica,” and a mexican pizza could simply be “El Diarrea.”

7. A weekly taco limit – Like the bartender who cuts off the alcoholic, set a hard limit on the number of tacos a customer can buy. Consult Ruth Carey, your registered dietitian, and figure out how many tacos a week someone must eat to remain healthy. Never sell a customer more than that number.

Last, but certainly not least…

8. TELL PEOPLE WHERE YOUR MEAT COMES FROM – Consumers are fickle, skeptical doubters, and I’m sure you’ve heard some of the rumors and urban legends surrounding the origins of your meat. To jog your memory, there have been claims that your meat is of lower quality than dog food meat; that it contains feces; that there are fingernail fragments, human blood, ash, worm, copper wire residue, cellophane, and bits of Jimmy Hoffa floating around in your meat. While I’m fairly certain these accusations are false, I was unable to find any information on your website as to meat origin and quality. I even called your hotline, with no further success. Why not replace one of the 3 giant 5 layer burrito posters on each store using the third to show a picture of the grass fed, grass finished cows that I’m sure you use to make those burritos.

I do realize making these changes may take a small upfront investment. Because I feel as responsible for America’s health as I’m sure you do, I am willing to put my money where my mouth is. If you make all eight of the suggested changes, I will donate $10,000 to a charity of your choice (perhaps the American Diabetes Association?). Thank you for reading my letter and for creating a diet that does not require me to leave my car. Maybe one day you will take the next step by creating a “Delivery Diet” so I won’t have to leave my house.

Yours in good health,

Mark Sisson

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Please tell me you actually sent that!

    Katerina wrote on January 15th, 2010
    • Hi! I’ve been reading lots of Paleo & Cross-fit stuff on the web the past 2 weeks, wondering if I had the guts to make this kind of change in my life.
      Well, I was munching on my yummy subway sandwich while reading this, and I may have reached the point of critical mass!
      Plus, my darling girlfriends took me out of town for a birthday bash, and it turned into an episode of The Hangover meets The Real Housewives. Any advice?

      Jennifer Pedersen wrote on January 20th, 2010
    • This is so stupid. If someone thinks that Taco Bell is unhealthy, than do not go, and if fatty fat goes and eats there, that is their choice and life, so leave them alone. I would rather have choices in life, and if I want to eat a 1000 calorie taco at midnight after going out and partying, than so be it, it is my life. Those that choice to eat unhealthy and make bad food choices will pay for their mistakes, and we need less people like you who judge and let people and companies run their lives the way tey want to.

      John Condon wrote on August 27th, 2011
      • Nobody is standing at your local Taco Bell and stopping you from entering, so go ahead and indulge if you want. The problem here, however, is not the fact that “fatty fat” is eating more fatty food voluntarily, but rather the fact that Taco Bell cunningly and deceitfully play with the truths about their food and advertise it as to encourage unhealthy eating without proper education and advertising ethics. They sound like they care about customers’ health but what they give them is the same crap just with different names dressed to look “healthy”

        Dahae wrote on August 27th, 2011
        • I think you have summed it up perfectly, Dahae. The “healthy choices” deceit by Taco Bell is what is so wrong here. Not everyone has the time or desire to trawl through all the latest research, fast food ingredients, etc.
          I thank MDA for this work.
          BTW Taco Bell didn’t last long in Australia. Maybe we like our salsa truly fresco…

          Amanda wrote on December 28th, 2011
  2. I love it!

    Vick wrote on January 15th, 2010
  3. I’ll take an “El Diarrhea” “to go”, please! Vintage Mark!

    Rodney wrote on January 15th, 2010
  4. Oh my freaking god. I think I just wet my pants. And I’m a grown-up!!

    jamiebelle wrote on January 15th, 2010
    • You’re a HOT adult. (That’s what us adults call ‘grown-ups’)

      Phil E. Drifter wrote on February 15th, 2010
      • HAHA! Yea, if you are telling us you are a grown up, you probably aren’t.

        Like the following quotations:
        “I’m a brilliant man!”
        “I’m a man!”

        come on…

        Ian Mc wrote on August 31st, 2010
    • What kind of wet?

      Michael wrote on May 15th, 2011
  5. …and bits of Jimmy Hoffa floating around in your meat

    PRICELESS!

    Lovestoclimb wrote on January 15th, 2010
    • I have to admit…. that was one of the best lines I’ve ever read on MDA :)

      Grok wrote on January 16th, 2010
    • or Elvis lives

      Velvet wrote on March 3rd, 2010
  6. Awesome!

    I especially love the disclaimer on the commercial that says “Taco Bell Drive-Thru Diet is not a weight loss program.”

    KrisM wrote on January 15th, 2010
  7. Genius!

    Candice wrote on January 15th, 2010
  8. I saw their ad during a football game and had to text every single person I know. Unbelievable.

    Michael wrote on January 15th, 2010
  9. After eating you’ll experience Taco Hell! What’s in that meat?

    Biglee wrote on January 15th, 2010
  10. bahahahahahaha! Oh, I have tears. LMAO!

    DiabetesCanKissMyButt wrote on January 15th, 2010
  11. Priceless! I actually have a colleague at work who said she was going to go on the Taco Bell diet. I couldn’t tell if she was joking or completely serious.

    Kate wrote on January 15th, 2010
  12. LOVE IT!

    stevew2023 wrote on January 15th, 2010
  13. I don’t know why Taco Bell is even trying the “diet” angle. This is a food chain that made its fortune catering to HYMs (hungry young males).

    Their last commercial featured Kareem Abdul Jabar and his “mother” eating half pound beef burritos. The inconsistency is killing me.

    I suppose it should come as no surprise, since KFC and Taco Bell are owned by the same company, and the KFC “grilled chicken” has been playing on the health angle, probably with success. Expect Pizza Hut to follow suit soon.

    Dave wrote on January 15th, 2010
    • my mistake, it was Evander Holyfield and his “mother.” I don’t know where Kareem came from on that one.

      Dave wrote on January 15th, 2010
    • Fast food is a volume sales business. It is also much less expensive for a company to target its existing customers than to try and get new customers.

      This is simply a ploy to get some of its existing customers to consume much more of its food.

      I love when people talk about eating fast food “in moderation”. What they don’t understand is the fast food model is not about moderation. They want you to consume as much as possible as frequently as possible.

      No higher end restaurant expects you to eat their food for every meal every day of the week, but that is the goal of fast food.

      Steve-O wrote on January 15th, 2010
  14. :D

    NorthernMonkeyGirl wrote on January 15th, 2010
  15. Wow…excellent!

    Kevin @ Black Belt Marketing Blog wrote on January 15th, 2010
  16. Mark you can get water at every fast food place..no need to drink sodas there.

    NO plastic plates please, Use paper plates only with the salads. Plasticis terrible for the environment and uses too much oil as well. The rest of the suggestions are good.

    Gordon wrote on January 15th, 2010
  17. LOL! Mark, shame on you for dumping on Taco Bell. Taco Bell was responsible for just about every lunch I consumed for three years during which I was getting my masters in anthropology. And the fact that no-one wanted to be in the room with me after each meal was a bonus–more time to focus on my studies!

    aaron blaisdell wrote on January 15th, 2010
  18. Sarcasm: Just another service we offer.

    glorth2 wrote on January 15th, 2010
  19. I think I just peed my pants laughing so much!

    erstad17 wrote on January 15th, 2010
  20. Are you preparing for a career in stand-up comedy? Your posts are getting more and more hilarious.

    John S wrote on January 15th, 2010
  21. ‘Maybe one day you will take the next step by creating a “Delivery Diet” so I won’t have to leave my house.’

    Only in a perfect world would we see a delivery car with a happy taco bell logo rushing to deliver you your nutrtrient rich fourth meal. We can only hope… maybe someday.

    JamieRose wrote on January 15th, 2010
  22. That’s awesome! Living on the “drive through diet” will turn into the moving via forktruck lifestyle.

    Muckdweller wrote on January 15th, 2010
  23. Priceless Mark! When I first saw their commerical, I thought they were joking! Until I looked at their website. I posted on my blog about it as well. I sincerely hope you sent this to them. This is hysterical!

    Krys wrote on January 15th, 2010
  24. “People like salsa and they like bars, it’s a win-win.”

    That made me LOL.

    Trish wrote on January 15th, 2010
    • I was just gonna post the same thing! That made me HAPPY! LOL

      leslie wrote on January 15th, 2010
    • If they’d serve some margheritas, maybe the alcohol would sterilize the meat. And the food would seem even better.

      David wrote on January 15th, 2010
  25. “… you replace the cheese with tomatoes” love this post :D

    ds wrote on January 15th, 2010
  26. Only you could make real food topics this funny, Mark. Kudos for tearing down Taco Bell’s nutritional philosophy in the most hilarious way possible.

    Elizabeth wrote on January 15th, 2010
  27. Thank you so much for writing this! The Taco Bell Drive Thru Diet is what prompted me to finally blog about eating Paleo the last 10 months. These commercials have been a pet peeve of mine, they just drive me crazy. Your letter had me completely rolling, tears in my eyes and all. Well said!

    Joey Nicole wrote on January 15th, 2010
  28. Are you going to address the Hollywood Cookie Diet next? This madness needs to stop!

    Joey Nicole wrote on January 15th, 2010
  29. Mark – great post! Only problem: I think they’d be more likely to go with a “Sin Queso” option, as “sin” means “without” in Spanish. “Sans” is French…maybe Au Bon Pain is your next target? Would they go for a “Sans Pain” menu?

    Mike wrote on January 15th, 2010
    • Mike, I figured using “sans” helps them expand into the French market. Two birds – one stone. Although the queso TB uses IS a Sin…

      Mark Sisson wrote on January 15th, 2010
      • ha ha ha!!!!!!!!!!
        I just fell off my chair.
        I mean, j’ai tombe sur ma chaise.

        Lisa wrote on May 1st, 2012
  30. perfect!

    Krista wrote on January 15th, 2010
  31. oh my gaga. i went ape $hit when i saw this commercial on tv. utter madness! thank you for this, it bought the LOLs

    misathemeb wrote on January 15th, 2010
  32. that. is. awesome.

    Luckykoi wrote on January 15th, 2010
  33. Just sent a link to the article to everyone I email with. Sure some will be scratching their heads.

    withtao wrote on January 15th, 2010
  34. Brillitant, So funny…LOL

    Mike GP wrote on January 15th, 2010
  35. “and a mexican pizza could simply be “El Diarrea.” – HA, i like that. I concur with one of the above statements… and hope that you actually sent this to them.

    It’s funny that the insides of these food item reminds me of puke… which is what food is supposed to look like AFTER you’ve dished it back OUT of your body.

    Odd isn’t it?

    FJ wrote on January 15th, 2010
  36. Love it! But you forgot to mention that they need to have recommended daily allowances that are aligned with the number of joints one has smoked before entering the establishment (or approaching the window).

    jfellrath wrote on January 15th, 2010
  37. Beautiful! I love it!

    Katt wrote on January 15th, 2010
  38. If you think that’s bad, Kellogg’s is touting Rice Krispies as being a great way to support your family’s immune system:

    http://openwaterchicago.com/2010/01/15/a-case-study-of-a-marketing-half-truth/

    The sad part is that people actually buy into these messages!

    Stephen Hernan wrote on January 15th, 2010
  39. Brilliant. I seriously hope you send it.

    Christine wrote on January 15th, 2010
  40. Mark,
    That was pure awesome! Loved the politely veiled snark.

    Kelly wrote on January 15th, 2010

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