Taco Bell vs. Ben & Jerries vanilla ice cream: It's not even close

My friend was recently teasing her husband for his love of Taco Bell. The gist of the teasing was this:

Taco Bell's food is bad for you. You shouldn't eat it. 

I'm not a fan of the elevation and denigration of certain foods, for many reasons, but here's one reasons that annoys me most of all:

So much of what we think about food isn't dictated by the quality or even the taste of food but instead by cultural and familial norms, childhood indoctrination, preconceived notions, the media, and more.

The classic example of this is lobster. Back when lobster was so plentiful that catching one was simple and the cost of lobster was low, Americans despised lobster. In fact, servants' contracts often stipulated that lobster could only be served once per week. 

Lobster was considered a trash fish. 

Later, when lobster became more difficult to catch due to overfishing and costs skyrocketed, Americans decided that lobster was delicious. Suddenly a food that servants refused to eat became a delicacy. 

Is lobster objectively delicious? Maybe, but if it really was tasty, why did Americans initially despise the food? And why do most people dip their lobster in butter before eating? Is there any other food that must first be entirely coated in butter? Can any food be objectively delicious if the vast majority of people who eat it must first submerge it in liquified fat?

It's at least worth a bit of skepticism, yet tell a lobster fan that their appreciation for the food might not have a lot to do with the actual taste and they will reject that possibility with the fire of a thousand suns.   

The same holds true for wine. In study after study, economists have shown that even the most sophisticated of wine connoisseurs cannot reliably differentiate between a $150 bottle of wine and a $15 bottle of wine in double blind taste tests. 

We should all be drinking $15 wine. If the experts can't tell the difference, we certainly cannot. Yet tell a wine snob about those economists and their studies, and they reject those ideas as rubbish and claim that they can absolutely tell the difference between cheaper and expensive wine.  

Americans used to hate tomatoes. Why? No one grew tomatoes in America, so when they first arrived, people found them to be inedible. 

It's predicted that our great grandchildren will be eating insects like we eat chicken, but most of us cannot fathom getting most of our protein from beetles. But it's likely that Americans of the future will look back on us and wonder why we had such an aversion to insects. 

We have to at least acknowledge that what we think about food is suspect. That taste is only one of several factors, and that preconceived notions, cultural norms, family history, the media, and what we want to be true influence the way we feel about food enormously.

What you think about a certain food item and the reality of that food item are often two entirely different things.  

Here is what I told my friend when I heard her denigrating her husband's love for Taco Bell:

The most popular item at Taco Bell, the Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos, has fewer calories, less fat, less sugar, more protein, and less cholesterol than a single scoop of Ben & Jerry's vanilla ice cream.


In fact, it's not even close. Here are the nutrition facts of the two items side by side. Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos on the left. Ben and Jerry's vanilla on the right. 

Not even close.

Yet Ben & Jerry's has a sterling reputation and Taco Bell does not.

A single scoop of vanilla ice cream on a summer day sounds lovely. An excellent choice. A measured choice. It's not a hot fudge sundae or a scoop filled with chocolate chip or cookie dough or a caramel swirl. It's just plain vanilla. 

Hell, it's only one scoop. 

But if you're on your way to purchasing a quart of Ben & Jerry's and your spouse calls and says, "Instead of ice cream tonight, I want a Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco. Can you grab one on the way home?" you might think your spouse is crazy. You might think that this choice is far less healthy than a single scoop of vanilla ice cream.  

In fact, Elysha and I had recently joined my friend and her husband for ice cream at one of these farms-turned-ice cream shack. There was no talk about the healthiness of the ice cream we were eating. No denigration of the calorie and fat-ladened food that we were all ingesting. In the light of a late summer day, surrounded by a barn, a silo, grass, rocks, and sky, that ice cream seemed heavenly.

Can you imagine what might have been said had I suggested we go to Taco Bell instead?

Can you imagine what might have been said at that picnic table had I asked if my cone of cookie dough ice cream was healthier than Taco Bell's Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos?

Am I saying that Taco Bell's Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos are a healthier choice than a single scoop of Ben and Jerry's ice cream?

No. There's a lot more to food than a nutritional label. What are the ingredients? Where were they sourced? Under what conditions was the food prepared?

What I'm saying is that Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos might be a healthier choice, and if it's not, it's a hell of a lot closer than most people would suspect. 

I'm saying that when it comes to food, the truth is often a lot more complicated than we think. What our eyes, noses, and taste buds tell us is rarely the whole truth. What common sense tells us is sometimes nonsensical. 

Perhaps a spouse's love for Taco Bell might actually be a healthier, tastier, cheaper alternative to something that you perceived as healthier and better. 

If you can at least acknowledge that your love for lobster and expensive wine might not be entirely based upon taste and that Taco Bell might be a healthier choice than vanilla ice cream, then you might also be a person who is less likely to denigrate a good choice and more open to looking at a nutrition label, asking a few questions, and entertaining the idea that what we think about food is a lot more complicated than we think.