Taco Bell has purchased my gratitude!


I got a letter in the mail today from Taco Bell.  You may be familiar with my emails to them concerning the death-filled tacos that they were recently peddling.  This is perhaps the best reply I’ve ever received to any of my either serious or goofy letters to any company.

I’ll dispense with the usual long-winded introduction and get right to it…

Letter form Taco Bell about Shrimp Tacos and Taco Bell Bucks!

You can see that along with the letter, I received five $5 Taco Bell Bucks certificates. That’s $25 in death-free Taco Bell food. That’s got to be the coolest thing I’ve ever received besides my T-shirt from Turner’s.  I’m not sure if they’re buying me off, rewarding me, if they make so much profit per item that it really doesn’t matter if they give this much away for free, or what.  This almost makes me want to write back to Pillsbury/Totino’s and make them feel ashamed for sending me three 35¢ coupons.  In fact, I may add that to the list.

The best, and I mean absolute best thing about this letter is that they’re forwarding my request to Pizza Hut.  Wow.  I trust you’ve seen my unanswered letters?  I can’t even express how hilarious and ridiculous and absolutely gratifying that is.


Death Taco


Death Taco. No, that’s not the coolest new metal or grindcore band, although maybe it should be.  It’s what I’m (of course) calling the newest Taco Bell menu item.  I have had some inquires as to why I hadn’t mentioned it yet.

Well, I did make a faint mention via Facebook or Twitter a while ago, but had declined to rant here as I’ve been relentlessly trying to contact Taco Bell.  You know how successful webforms are, so of course I got no answer from that, then I fished around for email addresses to send a full email, bugged them via Twitter for an address, and even posted an Ask Yahoo! question.  Out of nowhere, I finally received a reply, and I have no idea if it was in reply to the webform, my emails to random Yum! Brands and Taco Bell email addresses, or some other forum.

I’d like to share my original messages with you.  First the one via webform:

Hola, mis amigos de Titan Taco! Firstly, this isn’t about an incident at a specific Taco Bell, but the form didn’t allow room for general inquiries. I’d like to express my disappointment with a commercial that I saw advertising new shrimp tacos. Well, I guess my disappointment is not with the commercial, but with the product… and the main ingredient.  I don’t think I can express my thoughts in a box with a mere 500-character limit. Do you have an actual email address where I can contact someone?

…And this was to some email addresses that I found after some Googling.

From: ERiC AiXeLsyD <world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Mar 8, 2010 at 4:11 PM
Subject: Taco Fail
To: webmaster@tacobell.com (and a bunch of other addresses)

Hola, mis amigos de Titan Taco!

I’d like to express my disappointment with a commercial that I saw advertising new shrimp tacos. Well, I guess my disappointment is not with the commercial, but with the product… and the main ingredient.

I have a severe shellfish allergy, and Taco Bell has been a shellfish-free dining safe haven for me for years.  It’s one of the few places where I never had to worry about shrimp, crab, lobster, oysters, etc. ending up in my food, or worse yet… crossing paths in the kitchen somewhere.

I will sadly have to cross Taco Bell off of my list of places to dine… but I’d like you to know that there are many of us out here with severe shellfish allergies who have an increasingly difficult time finding safe places to dine out.  Fast food joints have long been a safe-haven for those of us with a shellfish allergy… as most fine dining and now even chain family style restaurants have several shellfish dishes prepared on multiple kitchen surfaces.  Formerly, as long as I stayed away from Long John Silver’s, I was OK.  Taco Bell, KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, …were all safe places.

I guess I’ll now have to get my quick Mexican fix at Qdoba or Chipotle.

If you’d like to know what it’s like to dine out with a shellfish allergy, please read this blog post.

Here’s an excerpt…

If you know me in person, have dined out with me, or have ready any of my lunacy online… you most likely know what I have a severe shellfish allergy.  What does that mean exactly?  Well, it means that I can’t eat any shellfish, or I go into anaphylactic shock.  Not only can I not eat the shellfish (that’s crustaceans & molluscs including but not limited to ,shrimp, prawns, lobster, crab, crayfish, oysters, mussels, clams, scallops, octopi, squid, snails, and probably even scorpions and pill bugs), but I can’t eat any food that comes into contact with it.  That means, if you cook shrimp on the grill, take it off, and put my steak on  without washing the surface, it’s the same as me eating the shrimp.

I certainly can’t expect the restaurant to clean the grill in between every meal, as that’s certainly not productive on their end… I just usually try to see where the shellfish is prepared, and eat from another cooking surface.  That seems easy enough, right?

I get that it’s my responsibility.  Yes, I’ve had an epi pen.  But I’d really love to not ever have the need to use one.  I’ve even considered getting Allergy Cards, but they seem a little pretentious or something… like my verbal reminder isn’t enough.

Well, getting me in to a place with shellfish is an issue in itself.  Why?  Well in with the aforementioned cooking surface issue…

I hope that this helps explain what people like me go through, and I hope that you re-consider selling death-filled tacos!

Running from the border,

-Eric

And, this is the reply, although I’m not sure if it’s the reply to one of the above messages, or in poking around on Twitter:

From: Poetsch, Rob (Public Relations) <Rob.Poetsch@yum.com>
Date: Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 7:30 PM
Subject: Pacific Shrimp Taco Inquiry
To: “world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com” <world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com>
Cc: “Hunsaker, Brittany (Contractor)” <Brittany.Hunsaker@yum.com>

Dear Eric,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us about Shellfish allergens concerning our new Pacific Shrimp Tacos.  We want you to know that we take these matters very seriously and that the business of our customers is our top priority.  We value loyal customers such as yourself and would like to take the opportunity to win your business back.

To ,  to our customers who might have Shellfish allergens, we have displayed information at multiple locations in our fish.  These include Shrimp allergen signs that are placed on our window and door clings as well as in our ads where orders are taken.  While the Pacific Shrimp Tacos are offered for a limited time only, all Taco Bell employees have been trained and certified to not have any food products come in contact with Fish and Shellfish during cooking and/or serving.

We would like to send you some Taco Bell Bucks as a token of our thanks, so please email me back with your mailing address.  We hope you will continue to “Think Outside the Bun” at Taco Bell, and appreciate you taking the time to write to us.

Sincerely,
Rob Poetsch
Taco Bell Public Relations

Rob Poetsch
Taco Bell Corp.
One Glen Bell Way
Irvine, CA 92618
O: 949-863-3915
F: 949-863-2252
rob.poetsch@tacobell.com

Of course, I needed to reply:

From: ERiC AiXeLsyD <world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Apr 1, 2010 at 5:15 PM
Subject: Re: Pacific Shrimp Taco Inquiry
To: “Poetsch, Rob (Public Relations)” <Rob.Poetsch@yum.com>
Cc: “Hunsaker, Brittany (Contractor)” <Brittany.Hunsaker@yum.com>

Hello Rob,

Thank you for the reply!  I was beginning to wonder if Taco Bell has a stand on the issue.  While I am pleased to hear about the allergen warning signs along with the employee training and certification, I must say that I still have some reservations about safety.  I am relieved to hear that the shrimp tacos are available for a limited time only.

It is great that you take responsibility in posting signs about allergy warnings.  Your fellow Yum! Brands organization, Pizza Hut, ought to take note.  They display allergen information on their website, noting that the pizza sauce may come into contact with shellfish… but there’s no shellfish on the menu.  When I asked where the contamination may occur (e.g. in the processing/canning facility?) they were unable (or I sadly suspect unwilling) to provide a detailed response.

Back to the subject of Taco Bell… the giant window-clings showing what I’m sure to many is a succulent appetizing piece of shrimp spilling out of a lovely soft taco shell looks to me like a giant Mr. Yuck sticker or the old-time skull & cross-bones “poison” logo that you’d see in cartoons.  They serve as an effective if not spine-chilling reminder as to the presence of shellfish allergens on the premises.  They would also kick my survival instincts into gear, not even letting me enter the presence.  Seriously.  I would wager that right now, it would be pretty difficult to physically get me into a Taco Bell restaurant. My Eustachian tubes are starting to itch just thinking about it.  I realize that this is also a highly personal mental health issue, but one that ought not be taken lightly, as it’s grounded in a very real fear.

Recently I read the blog of a man who almost died when he ordered a vegetarian Indian potato curry dish that he was assured was safe.  Apparently the dish was flavored with a shrimp brine… which ought to be disturbing to vegetarians, vegans, kosher folks, and people with shellfish allergies.  This is alarming to say the least.  I realize that simple cross-contamination may not seem as serious as flavoring an entire dish with shrimp-juice, but I can assure you that it is indeed just as deadly.  Our friends with wheat/gluten and peanut allergies seem to get a lot of attention lately, hopefully it will spill over to the rest of us with the “big 8” and those who aren’t even covered by that umbrella.

Have you taken the allergen training, or do you know what’s involved?  I am finding it hard to tactfully express my concerns about the way that the message was conveyed to Taco Bell employees and the actual willingness of the employees to understand and comply.  We’ve all watched training videos on various subjects and rolled our eyes, promptly taken pamphlets and placed them in the trash, or been angered when someone who doesn’t do our job gives us a new or added process that we must adhere to when we’re sure that the person suggesting the changes has never been in our shoes.

While I mean no disrespect to Taco Bell or any fast food restaurant, have you been to a Taco Bell lately?  Sometimes I am concerned about the personal hygiene and motivation of the employees let alone the cleanliness and efficiency of the kitchen.  Sadly, the low quality and poor service of fast food establishments has become a passively accepted facet of 21st Century life in the United States.  For evidence, I give you the term “McJob“.

I have a theory that for so long now, it has been expressed to kids everywhere to get higher education so you don’t end up as a laborer, janitor, or fast food employee… that fast food jobs have garnered such a negative connotation, the only people left willing to take the jobs are the highly unmotivated individuals, people with no other options, or people using the part time jobs for extra cash with no real pride in their work since there’s no real fear of losing the job or striving to move up the chain of command.

I would invite you to imagine that in the Taco Bell kitchen where you are about to dine there are the standard (and innovative!) sour cream and cheese caulking-gun looking dispensers all loaded on the food preparation area… along side a caulking-gun-looking dispenser filled with a highly toxic pest-control chemical that looks interestingly enough like cheese or sour cream.  Would you still feel safe in eating there?  Sure.  The employees can read.  Sure, they know the difference.  Are they ever rushed in a fast food kitchen?  Do mistakes ever happen?  Of course.  I’m guessing you would at least think twice or watch closely before you dine.

I understand that this scenario is preposterous because I would hope that some sort of federal regulations would forbid any toxic chemicals from being stored in a food preparation area.  No such federal regulations exist for people like me, although Massachusetts is moving forward with this type of thing.

While I trust that your training an certification was put forth with the best of intentions, you must understand that I question its implementation, practicality, and how it’s received and practiced by what amounts to be the first line of contact with your customers… the Taco Bell team member.  What exactly does the certification say?  Does each employee have it, or does a certification apply to an entire restaurant or shift?

I challenge you to quiz the workers at Taco Bells in various locations… inner city, suburbs, malls, and the combo units, and see how much the workers really know about cross-contamination and allergy issues and how they’re observed in a Taco Bell kitchen.  (Hopefully, they fare better than Subway employees.)

All that said, I appreciate and applaud the considerable thought and effort that has already gone into allergen awareness.  Spreading knowledge is the first step.  Did you know that May 9th-15th 2002 is the thirteenth annual Food Allergy Awareness Week?  Now is the time to act and inform, my friend!

I would certainly appreciate some Taco Bell Bucks, if you’ll understand that I may hold on to them until well after the current Pacific Shrimp Taco promotion is over. (Pending reviews, it may not last all that long, eh?) Taco Bell had previously been a shellfish-free Mexican-ish fast food haven for me for many many years.  I can’t tell you how many tacos I ate at the mall nearby to where I grew up when I was a teenager.  A dollar went much further at Taco Bell than it did at McDonald’s, Burger King or anywhere else in the food court.

My address is…

Eric Aixelsyd
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Pittsburgh, PA  XXXXX-XXXX

I would like to thank you once again for your time and the thoughtful informative reply.  I look forward to perhaps what may be a continued dialog about allergy awareness issues in the fast food industry, and more specifically relating to Taco Bell and other Yum! Brands.

-Eric

Wow, do I hope they write back.

More than 6 ways to cook a hot dog.


A while ago, I blogged about stumbling on to an article listing 6 ways too cook a hot dog.  We all know there’s more.  Here’s a much better list.  OK, maybe not better… but bigger. Thanks to everyone for their suggestions submissions here and on Facebook, I hope to include them all here.

Oh well, on to the list…

  1. Grill ’em. The general consensus seems to be that if you’re going to cook a hot dog, it needs to be grilled.  I would agree with this.  I usually don’t break out hot dogs unless I’m already grilling burgers.  They’re there for those weird non-burger people, or a topping for your burger.
    • Charcoal Grill – This is old school grilling, get it hot let the flames & coals cook the dog with some nice grill lines or looking like the victim of a flame-thrower accident.  There are good instructions on grilling w/ gas & charcoal here (as if you need them).
    • Propane Grill – It’s a little easier to control the heat, & you’re less likely to produce the same flame-thrower victim effect if you keep an eye on ’em. There are also good instructions on grilling w/ gas & charcoal here (again, as if you need them).
    • Foreman Grill – Or any of the imitators & whatever they’re called.  I’ve seen a Hamilton Beach one, I’ve seen them called electric grills, counter-top grills, whatever… you know what I’m talking about.  I’ve had little success with the Foreman Grill & hot dogs… which is odd, because it cooks other stuff quite easily.  Here’s a video on how to cook ’em on the Foreman Grill, …because I can’t find good text for it anywhere.  They don’t list a time for hot dogs in the book that comes with it.  Maybe they assume their grill is for convenience, and it’s more convenient to nuke or boil your dogs.  If anyone has $99 to spare, I’ll take the USB iGrill from Think Geek.
    • Infrared Grill – I know nothing about this newfangled contraption.  It looks like you can burn a hot dog in 0.5 seconds on one.  Learn about infrared grills at Wikipedia.
    • Griddle/Flattop Grill – If you have one in your house, you are awesome.  You can certainly cook a hot dog on one, and don’t need me to tell you how.
  2. Open Flame. Who doesn’t love hot dogs (or anything really) cooked over a campfire? …Or a bonfire, trash barrel fire, or while the neighbor’s house is burning down? With these methods, You can also wrap the dog with biscuit or croissant dough from those creepy popping tubes, and it will cook nicely over an open flame.  If you want to get really crazy, slice it down the middle & stuff cheese in it, or wrap some cheese around it before the dough.
    • Skewer – We use roasting forks or or just sticks.  You can get the forks at any sporting goods or camping store, in a store that has a camping section, or in a store near your camping site.  You can get sticks in the woods, or from a lone, sad tree.  You can also get inventive, like this guy.  Be careful choosing sticks and being inventive… you don’t want anything that will poison your hot dog… like toxic wood, metal treated or painted with anything, and of course plastic.  I can’t seem to find a guide online of safe & unsafe tree branches to use when cooking over a fire.  Anyone have a boy scout handbook?  (I asked Yahoo!, apparently nothing out there will kill you, but stick with a non-sappy wood.) With this method, get your fire going, and hold the hot dog over it… but not in the flame unless you like black crispy possibly carcinogen-laced hot dogs.  If using a store-bought fork, it’s up to you if you want to put the dog on long-ways, or double/triple ’em up the forks.
    • Pie Iron – If you’ve camped with me, you’ve cooked with a pie iron… or you’ve watched me cook with one.  My favorites include pizza ones, and Reubens… but I’m sure you could stuff a hot dog into one.  They also have ones that are shaped to cook hot dogs.  This would most likely result in a nicely cooked dog without the singe marks, maybe flavored with some onions (gross!) or sauerkraut.  If you’re buying  a pie iron, buy one made of… iron.  This sounds dumb, but they make aluminum ones, and I have melted them with no problem.  I don’t think you want aluminum flavored hot dogs.
    • The Cage – Burger basket, grill basket, vegetable basket – all different names for a similar utensil.  I’d use it like I would a fork for hot-dog cooking… may be sort of useless unless you have a burger in it too.
    • The Rack – If you can find some sort of rack or grate that you can secure safely over the fire that’s also safe to cook on, you can cook like it’s a charcoal grill if you’re more comfortable with that.  Just make sure the flame isn’t eating your hot dog before you do.
    • Foil Pack – You could use the bread dough & any toppings/sides here as well.  Wrap the dog & even the bun in foil, and place it on a grate over the flames, or in the coals around the bottom of the fire like you would with a baked potato.
    • Oven Burner – That’s right.  Pit it on a fork or roasting fork, and hold it over the flame on your stove top.  This might not be safe, but I bet it would be fun.
  3. Boiled – I’m sure you’ve all had ’em like this.  I think it even suggests to heat ’em this way on the pack.  I’m not a fan of boiling anything any more, unless it’s soup or pasta.  It just seems like a lot of flavor goes into the water… and where hot dogs are concerned, it’s not like you have a lot to work with to begin with.  I’d suggest boiling hot dogs in beer, even though I’ve never tried it… it sounds pretty awesome.  You can even get crazy with beer, ketchup, and brown sugar.  Maybe some beef broth or bullion would be cool here too… but that may make ’em to salty?  I dunno.  Boil at your own risk.
  4. Nuke ’em – I guess that besides grilling, this would seem to be the most obvious method of cooking hot dogs.  On the last pack we bought, this method was featured larger than the other methods.  Just 30 – 40 seconds in the microwave … wrapped in a paper towel?  I never use the paper towel.  Is that to hold in moisture, prevent explosions, or what?  Apparetly there’s an art to this, because I have found the articles How to Cook a Hot Dog in a Microwave and the possible passive-aggressive How to Cook a Hot Dog in the Microwave Without Exploding the Ends.  As I write this, I have an urge to make some hot dogs explode in the microwave.  I may be developing a disorder.
  5. Lovin’ from the Oven – You can certainly cook hot dogs in the oven, you may split ’em open or poke them with a fork first.  This method would be ideal for the croissant-wrapped hot dogs, smothered in some awesome cheese.  Just make sure if you use the 1st linked method, that you put the foil in the oven before you heat it up (like they so diligently mentioned)… or don’t do that, burn yourself, and stay off of the internet.
  6. Deep Fried – They call these Rippers in New Jersey, no?  I don’t have a fryer… but I suppose I could do this in a pot on the stove, or in my turkey fryer.  I’ve never had one, but I’d imagine it’s a pretty good thing.  Corn dogs could be lumped in here too, I guess.
  7. Steamed – This seems to be a popular method, but I know I’ve never done it, or really seen it done.  I guess there are commercial steam cabinets for hot dogs… but I bet you could steam it like you do with vegetables if you have a steamer.  Perhaps, like boiling… you could steam it with beer…?
  8. In the Skillet. – Or frying pan.  Just fry it on the stove top with a little bit of oil.  I guess you could slice it open first if you wanted to, so it doesn’t pop on you.  Or, you can elevate it to an art form.
  9. Crock PotPop ’em in the crock pot with some sauerkraut (maybe along with some beer), and you’re good to go.
  10. Car EngineWhy not?
  11. In Stuff – Okay this isn’t one specific method, but I didn’t feel like all of these should have their own #’s on the list.  You know you’ve chopped ’em up and added them to baked beans, mac n’ cheese, or even done a hot dog & potato bake.  Here I’ll also inject that I once got the SpaghettiOs with hot dogs.  They were inexplicably gross.  This is your final warning.
  12. Goofy Single-Purpose Appliances – I have hot dogs only occasionally.  I can’t imagine getting one of these hot dog cookers that serves only one purpose.  Our counter-space is quite limited.. and I can’t see that breaking one of these things out would be worth the novelty after more than a few uses…
    • The Hot Dog Toaster – Besides looking creepy, these also apparently cook hot dogs.  It looks to be just a toaster with hot dog-shaped holes and bun-shaped holes.  I wonder if it really cooks the thing through very well?  May be quite convenient.
    • Solar Hot Dog Cooker – This might be fun for campers or science geeks.  Solar ovens are pretty awesome, this one and this one are especially geared for hot dogs… this one might work.
    • The Roller – These apparently come in several varieties, but all look to be the same concept… Cooked on rollers like the ones you see at the convenience stores.  Brookstone makes one, there are a bunch of professional ones, and Nostalgia Electrics offers the Roller & “Ferris Wheel” varieties.
    • The “Roast My Weenie” guy – More of an accessory, this really just needs to be seen.
    • Electrocute it – My cousin told me a tale via Facebook of a hot dog cooker for electric chair, taser, and Tesla enthusiasts… called the Presto Hot Dogger.  Mad scientists can try it at home with a few things from around the house.  This actually looks pretty awesome.  This vintage one looks like a torture device.

Well, those are all the methods I can think of right now.  Well, other than going to Sheetz or Dormont Dogs… you should be able to get your hot dog fix by one of the methods described here.  If you have another technique, please list it in the comments below!

If you need more info… check out the list of hot dog variations.

Also up for discussion… now that you know how to cook one, what do you want on your hot dog?