4 min read

Friday, April 21, 2023

Taco Bell Big Cheez-It Tostada
the horror

Good morning and welcome to another verified issue of Wolmania. This week we're talking fast food, but also cinema and acts of protest. Mostly fast food though.

I enjoyed this Antonia Hitchens New Yorker story about Taco Bell's food innovation so much that I'm going to cut and paste a few long excerpts. It's a good read - read it!

First, great lede:

Lois Carson always wanted to find a new way to fold a tortilla. “Life’s like an experiment to me,” she said. For twenty-three years, when she worked for Taco Bell as a product developer, she thought and thought about how a tortilla might be wrapped around taco fillings in the shape of a hexagon. She wanted people to be able to pick up the stuffed tortilla with one hand, even while driving, without it falling apart. “It was just something that came into my mind,” she said, seated in a booth at a Taco Bell in Orange County, California. Carson is seventy-three and wears glasses, pink lipstick, and a Timex watch. She started her career in the nineteen-seventies, working in the kitchen at Perino’s, an Italian restaurant in Hollywood frequented by movie stars, where she devised methods to reconstitute the company’s frozen entrées for the microwave age. During her time at Taco Bell, she filled her lab book with sketches annotated with notes on the “build” of the potential hexagonal tortilla product, entering measurements of ingredients into a food-cost model. She practiced the fold technique studiously. “It’s like Thomas Edison and the light bulb,” she said. “He came up with an idea how many times? He made so many tries.”

Second, I guess a lot of Americans eat meals while driving. That doesn't seem safe or pleasant:

“In America, our food habits are still shaped by our Puritan values and work ethic,” Greg Creed, a former Taco Bell C.E.O., wrote in a 2021 book called “R.E.D. Marketing.” (R.E.D. stands for “relevance, ease, and distinctiveness.”) “That’s a big part of why fast food was born in the U.S.: we like and need portable food because it’s traditionally been seen as fuel, rather than an experience.” In the twenty-first century, the paradigm shifted. “Food is now absolutely an experience,” Creed wrote. “However it is still an experience shaped by our need for functionality and portability.” In the book, he endorses a popular theory—that, as American drivers switched to automatic transmissions, the nation collectively gained weight because it became easy to hold a snack in the hand that was formerly reserved for the gearshift.

Third, imagine doing all this work for what is, in my humble opinion, a not-very-good taco:

Denise Lefebvre, a food-research executive at PepsiCo, told me, “We first tried triangle taco shells of different sizes, but those couldn’t fit enough filling.” To get the right taste and texture for the shell, Frito-Lay tested more than fifty recipes. The company had to come up with “a bespoke means to season taco shells,” Lefebvre said. “This took months to achieve, with lots of consumer input.” An early try involved using a Home Depot paint-spray gun to apply the nacho-cheese powder to the shells. Three inventors are credited on a patent titled “System and process for applying seasoning to a food item.” (Besides getting the coating on the taco shells, the process protected workers from being harmed by breathing in Doritos dust.) Along the way, the company also developed a cardboard taco holster to keep the orange dust from getting all over fingers and clothes.
The Doritos Locos Taco, or D.L.T., is designed to target taste buds using “dynamic contrast”—in this case, the sensation of biting through the crispy shell to the fat-laced filling. Exactly half of a D.L.T.’s hundred and seventy calories are from fat, the ideal ratio for a pleasing mouthfeel. The lactic acid and citric acid in the Doritos dust get saliva flowing and excite the brain’s pleasure center, signalling you to eat more. The taco has what industry scientists call a “long hang time” flavoring system, meaning that the lingering smell stimulates food memories and cravings; meanwhile, the multifaceted flavors are strong enough to trip “sensory-specific satiety,” a neural signal that makes you think you’re full.

I'm also not too enthused about the proposal of "a Cheez-It deployed as a raft for spicy meat"(?!).

Anyway, next time you're in the vicinity of a Taco Bell, I highly recommend the spicy potato soft taco. Based on its excellent mouthfeel I can only assume that half of its calories are from fat.

Item 2: a list

Old McDonald's menu with a bunch of items listed at prices between 10c and 20c. Which items, you ask? Well, they're helpfully ranked below.

Original McDonald’s menu items, ranked

  1. Tempting Cheeseburger
  2. Golden French Fries
  3. Full-Flavor Orange Drink
  4. Triple-Thick Shakes
  5. Delightful Root Beer
  6. Thirst-Quenching Coke
  7. Steaming Hot Coffee
  8. Pure Beef Hamburger
  9. Refreshing Cold Milk

Item 3: a media recommendation

Akira Kurosawa - Composing Movement (Every Frame a Painting) - you're probably going to have to click through to watch it

Item 4: word of the week


Item 5: a photograph

Just click on the photo and see where it goes
This went better than he could have ever expected

See ya!

Thanks for reading. Have a Doritos Locos Weekend.