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
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
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.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.