My second official job when I was in high school was at my neighborhood Taco Bell in Ballwin, Missouri. Starting when I was 17, my friends and I would work evenings & weekends and, generally speaking, had a great time at “Taco Smell.” I’m not going overshare the details of why we had so much fun, but it was the first and only time since that I’ve worked side by side with my best friends.
My specialty was customer service, which was really my rationale for not having to make the food. Instead of being a slave to the food assembly line, I worked the front counter and the drive-through and was able to bypass having to learn how to prepare the food and getting dirty. In our heyday, our Taco Bell was the fastest in the region because we were treated fairly, paid decently, and everyone was friends. We also had a clock above the drive through that showed our average time so we could work against the morning shift to prove that evening shift did their orders faster.
In many respects it was kind of like a Utopian factory in which we diligently did our job at just above minimum wage (I was making $6.40 an hour) and in the process generated some very fond memories while in high school. From climbing up to the rooftop and throwing hot sauce packets on the busy street & watching them pop to giving the police officers free food, in essence, our Taco Bell was composed of a small army of teenagers who worked hard and played harder.
As the customer service specialist, I knew my way around the menu forwards & backwards and could blindly take someone’s order using the touch-screen register. Every once in awhile we’d get an Indian family who’d request their food to be completely vegetarian and we’d adjust their order accordingly.
There was a specific button on the register that we’d use to reflect this dietary adjustment and we could always tell the new employees apart from the older employees based on whether they’d use this button or not. The cryptic text on the button was simply SBBN and it stood for Substitute Beans, which meant that for any food item that was ordered, the meat would be substituted with beans. The new employees would always type in “-MEAT +BEANS” and we’d always have to correct them because the “+BEANS” would mean that the customer would be charged extra because they would be getting extra beans added to their order and not a substitution. This simple button is the why I am writing this entry today.
Since I switched up my diet about 6 years ago and removed meat from my daily intake, I’ve stopped going to 95% of fast food restaurants. Their combo meals are based on a meat-centric diet and without the desire to consume most of what is for sale, I’ve simply found no reason to go to most fast food restaurants. However, sometimes when I am traveling fast food is the only option, or sometimes when I’m out with a group of friends I get suckered into coming into a fast food restaurant with the group. I’m not one to proselytize my dietary beliefs, so I will just order French fries (which are usually fried with the chicken strips) and whatever is not a product that explicitly contains meat. Over the years I’ve learned how difficult it can be to go through the menus and find a full meal that does not contain meat. However, there is still one fast food chain that a vegetarian can get a full meal with little effort- Taco Bell.
The other week I was hungry, bored, and hadn’t purchased groceries in awhile, so I decided to make a visit to my nearest Taco Bell. Located near the intersection of 14th & U streets in Washington, DC, at the heart of the U Street Corridor, this Taco Bell is a Yum! Brand Inc. dual restaurant franchise, which contains a KFC and a Taco Bell (see photo above). This allows customers the opportunity to purchase chicken wings and a burrito. In other cities Yum! Brand Inc. has paired Taco Bell with Pizza Hut or A&W Root Beer or Long John Silvers (or different combinations therein), all with the notion that more sales can be generated when there are more culinary options available. In fact, Yum! Brands Inc., based in Louisville, Kentucky, is the world’s largest restaurant company in terms of system units, with approximately 33,000 restaurants around the world.
However, the Taco Bell nearest to my residence does not operate like the Taco Bell of my youth. There is no SBBN option on the cash register and when I purchased a burrito sans beef filling, I was charged 30 cents extra for the beans. When I approached the manager about this discrepancy, he simply told me that this Taco Bell doesn’t do free substitutions.
On the surface, I can understand why they’d not want to deal with substitutions because it causes the food preparers to do slightly more work. But below the surface, vegetarians are being charged more for less. The environmental aspects of choosing a burrito without beef is akin to a dietary carbon offset. The amount of water and grain used to feed the cows prior to their slaughter is greatly reduced by lowering the demand for beef. Thus its actually cheaper for Taco Bell to serve their customers beans instead of meat because the beans only require space, sun, water, and probably pesticides to mature & be harvested, while the cows require space, sun, water, grain (which in itself requires the same farming protocols as the beans), antibiotics, and a slaughterhouse before arriving in your burrito. So why charge customers more for something that is better for the environment and costs less to produce?
I called up Taco Bell’s 1800 number (1-800-TACO-BELL) to inquire about the discrepancy between the Taco Bell of my youth and the Taco Bell near my house. The official response is that Taco Bell does not have an authoritative position and its up to the individual franchises to give the substitution option to their customers. Thus you can go to one Taco Bell and get beans instead of meat on all your items free of charge, or go to the Taco Bell nearest to my house and be charged 30 cents for each substitution, and in the eyes of Yum! Brand Inc. there is no problem with that.
Frankly, I wholeheartedly disagree with this concept. If the customers is always right, then being charged extra for less is fundamentally wrong. I will be boycotting this Taco Bell until they’ve changed their position and I urge my neighbors to do the same. For those reading this outside of Washington, DC, I urge you to ask the customer service specialist if you are charged extra for the substitution of meat for beans and if you are, kindly state your issue with the practice and leave the establishment.
At the end of the day, its the profits that Yum! Brand cares about, not the environment or even what an annoyed vegetarian thinks. Yet I strongly believe that it would be in their best interest to make an authoritative position on the matter. Until then, I’ll be making my own burritos, buying burritos from other establishments, and when I happen to visit a Taco Bell that overcharges me for less, I’ll raise my voice within the restaurant and make a scene, so that all customers present will know that Taco Bell is ripping off vegetarians. I urge you to do the same.
Hipster : The Dead End of Western Civilization By Douglas Haddow
|| 7/28/2008 || 2:48 pm || 8 Comments Rendered || ||
This entry has depreciated, please click here to read the official article on the Adbusters website.
Below is the feature article of Adbuster’s Magazine Issue #79, which should hit newsstands either today or tomorrow. As a subscriber to the magazine, I received my copy in the mail last Thursday and after reading the entire issue I decided to spend an hour Friday afternoon transcribing the feature article for this blog entry.
Normally I don’t waste my time transcribing articles, but I have a strong feeling that this article will not be published on their website in its entirety and I feel that by sharing it here I’m able to direct more people to the magazine’s website than would otherwise visit. I don’t think Adbusters will take too much issue to my reprinting of their article, but if they do I’ll remove it from my website. I’ve already been their anti-advertisement lackey before and probably helped sell dozens of their corporate flags when I was featured in the Sunday Style section of the Washington Post on the 4th of July, 2004.
What I enjoyed most about this article is that it hits close to home. Depending on what clothes I might be wearing I could easily be considered a hipster under the definition outlined in the article below. However, what’s lacking in the demographic the author outlines are those that bridge the gap between socially aware and unaware. As in, can someone stand for something, but not have it thrown in the face of the unaware? On my behalf, I can say that I’m fully aware of what style I am supporting just as I am aware of what corporations I am not supporting in my clothing, music, and transportation choices (I have two bicycles; neither of which are fixed-gear). Aren’t culture jammers supposed to be wolves in sheep’s clothing that can blend in, but stand out when the time arises?
In this respect, the author makes little room for someone like myself to exist within the rubric of hipsterdom. Can one be stylish, but not hipster? Or can one be socially conscious while maintaining the decorum of that which the author loathes? The inherent irony is that many of the clothes the author points out are also clothing items that were not made in a sweatshop.
As a mashup of all demographics before it, how then will the future be defined by the absence of this mashup? Essentially, if hipsterdom is to die, then how can a new demographic be born anew without stealing some its tenets, much like all previous generations did before it? In that respect, the author attempts to answer this by stating we are at the end of the Western Civilization because we have no where to grow, move, or redefine ourselves. Yet the author doesn’t give much direction as to how we are to accomplish this.
I ask those rhetorical questions above because I generally agree with the author’s conclusions, yet as someone that straddles the demographic at hand, I don’t see the how the demographic will end or morph without some cataclysmic event that forces the delineation between those who have both substance and style and those that are simply posing for the camera blissfully unaware of their choices. Only time will tell…I hope you enjoy the read and if you do, go out and purchase the magazine yourself.
Hipster : The Dead End of Western Civilization
By Douglas Haddow for Adbusters Magazine, Issue #79
I’m sipping a scummy pint of cloudy beer in the back of a trendy dive bar turned nightclub in the heart of the city’s heroin district. In front of me stand a gang of hippiesh grunge-punk types, who crowd around each other and collectively scoff at the smoking laws by sneaking puffs of “fuck-you,” reveling in their perceived rebellion as the haggard, staggering staff look on without the slightest concern.
The “DJ” is keystroking a selection of MP3s off his MacBook, making a mix that sounds like he took a hatchet to a collection of yesteryear billboard hits, from DMX to Dolly Parton, but mashed up with a jittery techno backbeat.
“So… is this a hipster party?” I ask the girl sitting next to me. She’s wearing big dangling earrings, an American Apparel V-neck tee, non-prescription glasses and an inappropriately warm wool coat.
“Yeah, just look around you, 99 percent of the people here are total hipsters!”
“Are you a hipster?”
“Fuck no,” she says laughing back the last of her glass before she hops off to the dance floor.