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Taco Bell's beef: What convenience costs

A burrito you make at home can cost less, plus you know what's inside. Here's how to incorporate homemade 'fast food' into your busy life.

By Karen Datko Feb 3, 2011 11:03AM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.


Recently, fast-food chain Taco Bell was sued for calling one of its fillings "seasoned ground beef." The lawsuit alleges it contains too little meat to fit that definition and should be identified as "taco meat filling" instead.

The law firm also claims that the filling is only about 36% beef, less than the 40% needed to meet even that definition.


Taco Bell's own ingredients list includes water, isolated oat product, wheat oats, maltodrextrin, soy lecithin, anti-dusting agent, autolyzed yeast extract, modified corn starch, sodium phosphate and silicon dioxide.


Silicon dioxide?


Here's the thing: The lawsuit itself isn't really all that important. It's the broader issue that scares me. Consider thatthe U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that something contain only 40% meat to be called "meat,"whether at Taco Bell or anywhere else. Post continues after video.

If you start digging into the food-labeling standards, the issues become quite disturbing. Check out this article, which says the USDA standards for quality and safety of school lunches are lower than the ones fast-food restaurants use.


Whenever we buy a product, we're relying on both the company being honest with us about its contents as well as government regulations that do not always have the best interests of the consumer in mind. This goes not just for food, but for all manner of products from toothpaste to makeup.


The most common arguments in favor of such products revolve around cost and convenience. All right, let's look at those.


At what cost?

For comparison's sake, I took a look at Taco Bell's value menu. An 89-cent five-layer burrito, which you may also have to pay tax on, weighs 248 grams. I weighed one of my homemade bean burritos out of the freezer. The weight was 340 grams. It costs 20 cents.


What about something "better"? I compared Taco Bell's Chicken Ranch Taco Salad with our own burrito bowls. The Taco Bell salad weighs 420 grams, while my homemade version weighs about 470 grams (excluding the bowl). The homemade one costs $2.25, while the Taco Bell version costs $5.69 plus tax.


And think of the "meat" you're getting in that "bargain." (I've made similar comparisons in the past with McDonald's in my sights.)


I think it's fairly clear at this point that there are huge cost savings that can be found from being more involved in the things you consume. The best solution is to stick with the most basic ingredients possible. Don't settle for whatever prepackaged meal has a tasty picture on the box.


Not enough time?

A big challenge facing everyone is the issue of time. People eat at fast-food restaurants because it's convenient and it takes time to prepare your own food.


The phenomenon of convenience, from my experience, comes down to time and energy bottlenecks. Weekdays are often very tight, with work, three young children to attend to, and regular household upkeep as well. The convenience of eating a premade meal is very tempting because it allows us to conserve energy and time for other purposes.


At other times, though, we have large windows of time -- when we can improve the options we have during those time bottlenecks.


I prepare healthy food with good ingredients in advance so I don't have to exert a ton of energy or thought when we need a meal -- just toss it in the oven and go. This enables me to enjoy convenience without losing quality.


It pays off

This concept can apply throughout life. Rather than channel surf, I'll find good programming to watch and add it to the Netflix queue so I don't have to think when I'm bottlenecked -- just click and go.


The same philosophy explains why it's worthwhile to install a programmable thermostat (it saves you money whether you're pinched for time and energy or not).


In the end, if everything else evens out, the long-term factors win out. If you consistently consume healthier food, you increase your chances for good health throughout life. If you consistently entertain yourself with things that challenge your mind (at least gently), you increase your ability to think through situations as well as having a warehouse of knowledge that can help.


You're rewarded with lower health care costs and greater long-term earning opportunities.


Convenience can be a very good thing. It can help us survive some of the time and energy bottlenecks that modern life foists upon us. The problem with convenience, though, is that it can often lead us into higher-cost and questionable choices like Taco Bell's meat product.


TV wasteland

We can combat this by simply planning ahead a little bit. Turn on some music this Saturday and make a batch of burritos for the freezer so you're not left with a fast-food stop this week. Install a programmable thermostat so you don't have to remember to adjust the thermostat every time you go to bed, get up, or leave for work.


Seek out some documentaries or other programming on topics that really excite you and record them so that the next time you flop on the couch, you can just hit a buttion and watch something fulfilling instead of channel surfing through a wasteland.


You eat healthier. You save money. You don't lose convenience. And you're not left eating "meat filling." It's a win all around.


More from The Simple Dollar and MSN Money:



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