Take Two

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

How eating a Jack in the Box taco is an exercise in individual rights

by Monica Bushman, Alex Cohen, and A Martínez | Take Two

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Jack in the Box sells 554 million tacos a year. Travis S. / Flickr Creative Commons

Can a food be both disgusting and delectable? Repulsive and yet irresistible?

If you're a fan of Jack in the Box tacos, your answer is likely yes.

If you've never tried one before, trust us, there is such a thing on their menu. It's been there for decades. And people really, really love them.

A highly entertaining Wall Street Journal article about these deep-fried pockets of beef and cheese made the online rounds this week. The headline was "Americans Eat 554 Million Jack in the Box Tacos a Year and No One Knows Why."

But there's got to be some reason, right? 

Sophie Egan, food writer and author of the book "Devoured: From Chicken Wings to Kale Smoothies— How What We Eat Defines Who We Are," offered some possible explanations:

They're cheap.

​This might sound like a boring reason, but it also may be the most important. At two tacos for 99 cents, the affordable price point can't be ignored — it's an important factor in our food choices. The same thing happens with gas station hot dogs. They bring in billions of dollars in revenue for gas stations. They're greasy, cheap, instantly satisfying calorie bombs.

They're fried.

The fact that the tacos are fried also likely plays a big role. Lots of foods that are fried could be described in the same way that these tacos have been described: both 'vile and amazing,' both repulsive and irresistible. Think about state fairs where there are all sorts of concoctions like fried Oreos or even butter. And all that salt, sugar and fat ignite the pleasure centers in our brain and makes us want more.

They're a way to exert your individual rights as an American.

There's also a psychological aspect to the appeal of an item like the Jack in the Box taco. It's really in some ways a signal of a rejectionist movement going on to what's been called the 'food police.' There are so many issues right now with soda taxes and calorie postings. There are all kinds of dietary guidelines that all of us feel pressured by each day. So in some ways, eating this item is almost like a metaphoric flip of the bird to Michelle Obama and all of the nutritionists telling us what to eat everyday. Eating this perhaps disgusting, but ultimately quite popular item, is a way of exercising our individual rights. It's saying, 'You know what, it might taste awful, but I'm an American, and it is my right to sit in my car and eat as many of these as I darn well please.'

Responses have been edited.

Take Two also conducted an unscientific Guilty Pleasure Taco Taste Test, based on our listener suggestions:

The contenders: Del Taco's chicken soft taco, Taco Bell's crunchy beef taco, and the Jack in the Box taco

The judges: KPCC's A Martinez and Meghan McCarty

The rating scale: Taste (1-gross to 5-tasty), Irresistibility (1-hard pass to 5-I'd have more), Affordability (1-too expensive to 5-good deal)

The winner: Jack in the Box

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue media player above.

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