A few months back, after having spent years making dietary choices based solely upon how much delicious cheese, fat, salt, and meat were involved, I realized that I looked like the colloquial “ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag”.
This was an unpleasant, if overdue, revelation. I decided to do something about it. Still, I consider myself a realist. There would be no daily trips to the gym. No 4K runs. And I’d be damned if I was going to give up my beloved whiskey. So I chose to eat right… mostly. To that end, I acquainted myself with Un-American things like salad, vinaigrette, smaller portions, lean proteins, and whole grains.
I made a deal with myself. If I could convince my spoiled and overstimulated taste buds that these newer blander options were at least palatable during the work week, I would do as I see fit on the weekends. It has proven rather successful. I’ve lost at least 20 pounds. I’ve probably lost more, but I’m not really tracking it closely. I deal with metrics at work. Let’s leave them in the office where they belong.
Having convinced myself and largely maintained discipline throughout the week, I turn to the weekend. Yes. The weekend… That Glorious and Wretched Bacchanalian of BBQ, queso dip, steak drippings, dim sum, duck fat fries, schnitzel, assorted curries, Chicago dogs, bánh mì, and jjigae. So many tasty dishes to dig my greasy fingers into, so very little time.
So naturally, a question arises. How can I best defile myself and abase my body? With all of the above, ideally. However, I frequently find myself unapologetically drawn to the oft-maligned Taco Bell Bean Burrito. There is a certain elegance to its simplicity which is easily lost on pickier eaters, pretentious foodies, and preachy health-nuts.
Fast and Dirty – Taco Bell
It’s five fairly simple ingredients rolled into a quasi-cylinder that, when in the right configuration and proportions, transports me across decades back to my youth. The Taco Bell Bean Burrito is one of several things that run through my life like ribbons of fudge through a quart of premium chocolate ice-cream. So to those who might scoff, I quote W. B. Yeats, “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
As a child, I first fell in love with the easily-overlooked “Pintos n’ Cheese” when I was not yet old enough to be trusted with messy burritos and tacos. I was a particularly messy child and giving messy food to a messy child is a recipe for running out of laundry detergent.
That said, the “Pintos n’ Cheese” contained three of the five ingredients found in the Bean Burrito: refried beans, “red sauce”, and shredded cheese. By the time my coordination had developed enough to wrangle it and my palate had developed enough to appreciate raw white onions, I was already 60% committed to the Bean Burrito.
For all my appreciation of the rightfully-praised balance of a fresh bánh mì sandwich, I can also find and appreciate the balance found in a well-made Bean Burrito. For the record, that little caveat about “well-made” applies in any discussion about any Taco Bell menu item. But back to the balance.
Sure, it’s not quite the delicate counterpoint found in the bánh mì and may look sluggish or lazy beside it, but stay with me. You have smooth starchy beans, sweet crunchy onions, tangy salty “red sauce”, and sharp gooey cheese all rolled in a soft chewy tortilla. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s both the perfect size and perfect shape to eat one-handed in the driver’s seat of a moving car sometime after midnight. Call it alchemy. Call it synergy. Call it what you will. I call it magic.
No doubt, eating Taco Bell is “slumming it”. As one of the historically cheaper, less complicated, and largely unchanged items on the menu over the years, the Bean Burrito may be seen by many as a static low point in an already unappealing landscape. I see it differently.
I know that at 2:52 AM, when I’m tired, angry at God for some misfortune of my own making, and hungry enough to stoop to Taco Bell, the humble Bean Burrito is the homey inexpensive pillow that will break my fall. It’s like a drinking buddy who doesn’t drink, but is always there to make sure you get home safe.
Sure, it’s low. But sometimes… so am I.