If Hasbro ever decides to release a fast-food-themed version of Monopoly, there's little doubt which burger palace the folks on Boardwalk will choose: In-n-Out Burger. The California chain is what passes for a model fast-food restaurant these days. Not only do they cook burgers to order, they also use fresh vegetables, and there's not a microwave or heat lamp in the house. All right, so this is a sort of bare minimum when it comes to cooking. But we are talking about fast food, an industry whose products don't mold, they mummify.
Coasting along in our monopolist's thimble, we next head for Pennsylvania Avenue. These folks are no doubt tucking into Qdoba's outsize burritos populi. But then the landscape turns bleak. Our first stop down the economic ladder is the Hardee's on Atlantic Avenue. Three blocks along, we stop off on Kentucky Avenue for a Whopper at Burger King. Next stop? Big Macs on Vermont Avenue. We're starting to slum it now, and we don't think twice about mainlining that six-pack of microwaved meat product from the White Castle on Oriental Avenue.
As it starts to get late, we've had one too many frosties. We're on the wrong side of the Reading Railroad tracks, fast-food drunk and primed to make yet another bad decision. We've reached Baltic Avenue the game's gustatory nadir. Pulling into the drive-through, we opt for the tried-but-not-trusted 89-cent beef taco from Taco Bell.
It's no secret that, generally speaking, fast food is a race to the bottom. Less well known, though, is that in 1989 the folks at Taco Bell perfected their ability to mass-produce bland food at minimum cost. How? Via the "K-Minus Program." According to Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, the "K-Minus Program" eliminated kitchens from the chain's restaurants. From 1989 on, Taco Bell would precook its beef and beans at centralized facilities. The only "cooking" that took place at the actual franchises involved either adding water (to, say, guacamole) or heating.
How, then, could I resist when I stumbled across a twelve-pack of Taco Bell Home Originals Taco Dinner Sauce 12 Shells & Seasoning? The idea is simple enough. A box of Taco Bell Home Originals allows you, Mom, to peer behind the Taco Bell curtain and turn your kitchen into your own private Taquito Bell.
Not only can you sate your starving rugrats, but you can feel good at the same time, having served up a home-cooked meal that's just as good as going out.
That's the theory, anyhow. But a theory is only as strong as its underlying assumptions, and in the case of Taco Bell Home Originals Taco Dinner Sauce 12 Shells & Seasoning, those assumptions are flawed. Deeply flawed.
For starters, Taco Bell Home Originals assumes that people would eat Taco Bell if they were sober. Please. When was the last time you stopped off at Taco Bell for lunch? It doesn't happen. The only time anyone rings the Bell is around 3 a.m., with 89 cents scrounged from the seat cushions.
Another flaw: Taco Bell Home Originals assumes people are willing to pay more than 89 cents for a taco. Sure, Taco Bell in a box scans in at a reasonable $3.19. But starting a Taco Bell of one's own involves several hidden costs, such as beef, sour cream, cheese, tomatoes and lettuce. The bill came to $17.42. That's $1.45 per taco. To be fair, the tacos at Casa Keep It Down were every bit the equal of their 89-cent brethren. Which brings us to...
Flaw number three: Who would rather stay home and make tacos than head for Taco Bell where they emerge individually wrapped, like so many Christmas presents?
I could go on. Then again, Parker Brothers rejected Monopoly when it was conceived in 1933, citing 52 fundamental playing flaws in the game. By that measure, Taco Bell Home Originals sounds like a sure thing.