Taco Bell Celebrates Its 50th Aniversary This Week; 5 Ways the Bell Helped Mexican Food Become Better in the U.S.

Taco Bell's original mascot...

Taco Bell, the Mexican fast-food giant everyone loves to hate, celebrates its 50th anniversary this week and...yeah. Heaven knows it's an easy whipping boy for everything wrong with Mexican food in this country: the bastardized meals, the incessant appropriation (this week: I finally reveal the name of the restaurant whose taco recipe Glen Bell took for himself and subsequently became a millionaire while leaving the family behind), the bad food, the many bizarre crimes committed at its premises. They'll play a big role in my book on Mexican food in the United States (out April 10), and not always a positive one

But that's the easy part. Fact  is, the Bell also immeasurably helped out the progress of Mexican food in this country. Yes, Virginia: there are nice things to say about Taco Bell--great things, actually, for without it, we'd be at a much-worse spot for Mexican food. So next time you want to slam the Doritos Loco taco...don't. At least for this week, out of respect for this taco titan.

1. Taco Bell Brought Mexican Restaurants to Places That Never Had One, Thereby Whetting Appetites for the Better Mexican to Come

Instead of me rehashing a point I've made before, check out my commentary above on the very subject for Marketplace in 2010, shortly after the death of Glen Bell.

2. Taco Bell Convinced Non-Mexicans that They, Too, Could Get Rich off Mexican Food


Bell was a fast-food Johnny Appleseed, giving a start to the founders of Del Taco and Wienerschnitzel, and helping out Dick Naugles of Naugles fame--and these were just his personal friends. The early success of Bell with El Taco launched a taco revolution--between Taco Bell, Del Taco, Naugles, and their imitators--TacoTime, Taco Tico, Taco John's, Taco Bueno, and other chains started by gabacho men in the 1960s, the country was awash in fast-food empires. Such success, in turn, convinced entrepreneurs to join the Mexican game. And while Americans getting rich on Mexican food is nothing news (read my book for more details), Bell did this at a time when franchising was exploding and further drove the point for Americans that they didn't need Mexicans around to enjoy or cook Mexican food.

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