Remembering When the Orange County District Attorney's Office Sued Taco Bell, Alleging Fake Beef

It's absolutely amazing–and disturbing as hell–to see how history just doesn't exist in this day and age if you can't find it on the Internet. Remember all the hullabaloo over the lawsuit (later dropped) that Taco Bell sold fake beef by using filler to stretch out its meat? It wasn't the first time the fast-food titan was taken to court for supposedly misleading consumers about the quality of its beef.

But the complaining party wasn't some yahoo or spotlight-craving lawyer–it was the Orange County district attorney's office in 1975.

That April, the OCDA filed a civil suit against Taco Bell, alleging consumer fraud, unfair competition, adulterating food and false advertising. The DA at the time was Cecil Hicks, someone more prone to persecuting hippies, Black Panthers and Democrats than big corporations. According to a Los Angeles Times story on the suit, the DA charged “Taco Bell put as much as 14 percent filler in meat used in its products,” with the filler supposedly being “water, rolled oats and other products.”

The president of Taco Bell at the time dismissed the suit, telling the Times the oats were an ingredient in the taco sauce; he also told the Wall Street Journal that “a taco wouldn't be a taco without cooking the ground beef in a taco sauce,” as bullshit an answer as any I've ever heard. Hicks' office wasn't as flippant: The original lawsuit asked for an injunction against the Bell, as well as “$2,500 in civil penalties paid for each person throughout the state to whom misrepresentations were made.”

Pretty great background for the most recent Taco Bell lawsuit story, no? But not a single media outlet–including this one–reported on it. I only found out about it by accident, while working the microfilm at UC Irvine's Langson Library for my book on Mexican food in the United States. By then, my eyeballs were falling out of my head, so I'm not sure what happened to the case. Will update when I discover what, if any, resolution occurred. In the meanwhile, remember: There is more to history than what Google Books tells you.

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3 Replies to “Remembering When the Orange County District Attorney's Office Sued Taco Bell, Alleging Fake Beef”

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