So instead of my article about 10 Mexican dishes hipster chefs should ditch, THE Mexican-food viral story so far this week was the Wall Street Journal's rumination on why Jack in the Box's infamous tacos are so insanely popular. The only real revelation was that Jack sells as many tacos in a y ear as McDonald's sells Big Macs, if not more (the stat was from 2007, and the Golden Arches is selling less than in its glory days).
Other than that, the gist of the story—that Jack's curious fried taco of hamburger meat, lettuce, taco sauce, and a slice of cheddar cheese inspires simultaneous revulsion and adoration—is a tired trope of fast-food journalism. We did it back in our 2004 food issue when I wrote:
Years ago, when I was a lowly data monkey, the only lunch I could afford was the three-tacos-for-a-dollar deal that the nearby Jack in the Box offered. I gobbled those things despite never being exactly sure what was inside their fried shell—ingredients for the taco posted on Jack in the Box's website include soy and something called "imitation beef extract." Every lunch ended the same: I clenched my stomach for the rest of the afternoon, then rushed home after the five o'clock whistle to emit effluvia too graphic even for Rotten.com. But I write not to derogate Jack in the Box tacos but to praise them—wrenching digestive pains notwithstanding, dem snacks were more addictive than hillbilly heroin.
Jack in the Box did it back in 2000, when it bizarrely proclaimed "The Mayans might have invented the taco, but Jack made it a cult hero" and "unlike the Mayans, who went the way of the Yugo, Jack's tacos are here to stay." (Um, the classical Mayans didn't eat tortillas as we know them, and modern-day Mayans are still alive and thriving in Guatemala and Southern Mexico).
No less a luminary than Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold did it in 1996 when he wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Jack was "the kind of place that might reasonably tempt a high school sophomore to ditch class" for tacos"...which he did.
Consumer Reports did it in 1980, when it ranked Jack's tacos as the least-nutritious fast-food offering in the United States. "Instead of nutrition," they wrote, "they offered lots of calories, fat and salt."
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The Tucson Daily Citizen did it in 1976. In a survey of the Old Pueblo's taco offerings, a panel said Jack's were the worst. "All the other entries were made of ingredients cooked seperately and assembled at serving time," a reporter wrote. "At Jack in the Box, the meat is enclosed in the tortilla and both ingredients are cooked at the same time"
Bob Talbert, legendary Detroit Free Press columnist, did it in 1972. In a Thanksgiving column of the multitude of things to give thanks to, he said "Jack in the Box tacos."
And the LA Times alluded to it in 1967. In giving a plug to the legendary El Poche Cafe in San Gabriel, a columnist expressed incredulity when the owner's teenage daugther asked him, "Will you stop at the Jack in the Box on the way home and bring us some tacos?"
So why did the Journal's story go so crazy? Because no one bothers with history, of course. BARF...which is how I feel after I eat a Jack in the Box taco.