Taco Bell and Pizza Hut have jumped on the ‘actual food’ bandwagon, joining a growing number of chains who have decided to ditch artificial flavors and colors in favor of an edible product. The change comes in response to a growing threat from smaller companies who have carved out a customer base on the promise of serving real food. In their announcement, released yesterday, both companies vowed to spend the next few months ridding their menus of artificial flavors, preservatives, and colors, as well as high fructose corn syrup and palm oil.
The news is music to the ears of a bunch of hippies who wouldn’t be caught dead in a fast food chain. To the legions of customers who routinely gorge themselves on the delectable cardboard concoctions provided by these late night titans, the news may come as a bit of a let down. After all, Taco Bell customers know the cheese wouldn’t be yellow without a little help, but they also want to call some grade-D beef tucked into a Dorito a meal. Customers know that Pizza Hut’s sauce isn’t really made of tomatoes, but they need a hot circle of garbage to … wait, why do people eat at Pizza Hut, again? The point being, denial is the foundation of these companies’ business, so transparency is a daring road for them to walk.
According to TIME, the plan is “very much a political ploy on the part of the fast food industry to make their food look like somehow it’s real food, but it’s still not real food,” says Robert Lustig, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of California. Translation: just because Taco Bell and Pizza Hut say they’re dropping the “bad stuff,” there’s still plenty of things to be wary about when patronizing one of these establishments, not least of which is speculating on what exactly happened to your food before it hit your plate.
Most experts suspect that more fast food companies fearful of losing customers won’t actually work to make their food better. Instead, the odds are good they’ll just find a way to use natural ingredients to replace the taste and texture so loved by midnight tokers for the past several decades. On the surface that sounds like a good thing, but in reality, high fructose corn syrup will be replaced with something similarly sugary and artificial preservatives are likely to be replaced with more salt. Essentially, they’re replacing unhealthy fake products with unhealthy natural products. Of course, that distinction isn’t likely to sway Taco Bell and Pizza Hut’s core fanbase, who never seemed to care much about their health anyway. After all, they’re patronizing Taco Bell and Pizza Hut.
Now, that’s not to insult these chains. Well, not too much. Everyone knows the quality of the food is just terrible, but there really is something to be said for getting a full stomach in exchange for $2.50. Any simpleton can tell you that the quantity of food you get for such a small price could never in a million years be a healthy option. Satisfied stomachs and healthy foods just don’t really mix. That could prove problematic for those people looking for a filling meal three days before pay day (our thoughts are with you, fellow wage slave!), because everyone knows that natural food costs more money. Is it possible these policy changes may inadvertently hurt those customers on a tighter budget?
It’s going to be an interesting couple of months for the ironically named Yum Brands, Inc., the company that owns both Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. In the past, even minor changes to a company’s signature recipes have earned massive backlash from consumers who think if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Unfortunately, this isn’t a new Coke situation in which Yum Brands can eventually say, “Yeah, you’re right, we’re going back to the ingredients that might increase your risk for heart disease and diabetes. Our bad!” Nope, the die has been cast, and only time will tell how the American public feels about having the healthier option forced on them.