Taco Bell Sells Fake Meat. So What? Everybody’s Doing It

Food companies are like greedy cocaine dealers – cutting food with cheaper ingredients to increase profits. This is nothing new, and it’s not just happening with meat.

But first, about that beef with Taco Bell’s “beef.” Vegetable proteins are cheaper than meat and that’s why they are used as extenders by companies like Taco Bell. Texturized Soy Protein is one of the most commonly used extenders. Why is it so cheap?

Texturized soy protein is actually a by-product of soy oil, so the food industry gets to double dip while taking advantage of the massive government subsidies bestowed upon the soy industry.

Let’s take a look at the other duplicitous tactics the food companies employ in their ingredients.

Taco Bell:

According to its own nutrition statements, Taco Bell’s Cherry Limeade contains: Treated water, Sugar, Lime Juice Concentrate, Natural Flavor, Sodium Citrate, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate, Calcium Disodium EDTA, Red 40. What, no cherries? Thank goodness the water is “treated.”

In case you thought it was just the taco meat, Taco Bell’s carnitas contain pork, water, spice, roast pork flavor, natural smoke flavor, pork conditioner (modified food starch, tapioca), corn syrup solids, and a slew of other “flavors” and “textures.”

Do we want to know what “pork conditioner” looks like?

Burger King:

The Taco Filling at Burger King contains water as the first ingredient, followed by beef, and then textured vegetable protein (itself a mixture of soy flour, artificial colors, flavors, and chemicals, and starches). Burger King isn’t required to list the percentages, so it’s anyone’s guess how much meat there is in relation to this textured vegetable protein.


I think KFC might be the worst offender. KFC’s Chicken Pot Pie lists chicken stock, potatoes (and their accompanying preservatives), carrots, peas, modified food starch, chicken fat, chicken pot pie “flavor” (consisting of hydrolyzed corn, soy and wheat gluten protein, salt, vegetable stock [carrot, onion, celery], maltodextrin, flavors, dextrose, chicken broth), as well as hydrogenated oils, chemicals, and preservatives…all before we ever hear a mention of chicken. Download the ingredient listings here.

The Apple Turnover contains enriched bleached flour water, vegetable shortening, starches, gums, conditioners, flavors, and preservatives before mentioning apples (themselves accompanied by salt, ascorbic acid, citric acid, high fructose corn syrup, water, food starch-modified, and spices).


Wendy’s, by contrast, sells food that more closely resembles food, albeit with tons of preservatives. For example, the Crispy Chicken Patty contains chicken breast, water, salt, sodium phosphates, flours, starches, spices, and a whole lot of hydrogenated oils.

Think you’re safe from all this processed material if you don’t eat in fast food restaurants? Think again.

Kellogg’s, Betty Crocker and General Mills:

Packaged food companies have been passing off sugar, corn syrup, starch, hydrogenated oil, artificial flavors and artificial food dye as blueberries. After all, blueberries are pretty expensive.

Lean Cuisine:

A stroll through the frozen foods aisle in the grocery store revels that Lean Cuisine Baked Chicken contains Isolated Soy Protein. This appears to be a piece of actual flesh, but clearly it has been broken down and processed. Likewise, the chunks of beef in the Lean Cuisine Hunan Beef contain modified cornstarch product, caramel coloring added.

Marie Callender’s:

The turkey in Marie Callender’s Turkey Breast Dinner lists Isolated Soy Protein as a main ingredient.

Hungry Man by Swanson’s:

This icon of the frozen food aisle lists water, food starch, and soy protein concentrate as ingredients in the turkey in its Turkey Breast Dinner.

What’s the solution? Eat real food as much as possible. Fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, meats from the meat counter, and cook for yourself. That’s the only way to ensure you’re getting exactly what you think you’re getting. And you’ll probably live a lot longer too.

This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate, on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.

Images: Andres Rueda, theimpulsivebuy, Sjors Provoost, .angels, D.L., House of Sims, theimpulsivebuy, theimpulsivebuy, inazakira

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.