A Love Letter to Taco Bell, From a Beginning Vegan
I guess to start this out, I should say that I have no idea what I would do without you. I know it seems like I’m coming on too strong, and maybe I am. I’ve made no secret of how much I’ve adored you for the last several years, but watching you grow with me this year during one of the biggest changes of my life, I am awed even more by your depth, by your generosity, and by how effortlessly you’ve adapted to the new me.
I am absolutely in love with you, Taco Bell. And as a new vegan, that’s more true than it’s ever been.
When I first went vegan, I was lost. I had given up a lot of the comfort foods I was used to, and I would find myself wandering the frozen food aisles, saying “yes” to whatever pre-made vegan meal cast a friendly glance in my direction. When I went out to lunch with friends, I’d find myself staring dejectedly at a plate of Cheddars fries or onion rings, knowing that there must be somewhere better for me. Somewhere that would be willing to change for me, and with me. Somewhere that was open to multiple ingredient substitutions.
I worried that my new dietary saga would be a lonely one: memorizing ingredient labels and speculatively pinning vegan recipes to a new Pinterest board. That eating in a way that didn’t ask animals to pay the price too high for me to ignore would mean staying home or staying hungry. Out-of-town trips to visit friends were fraught with a new uncertainty. I didn’t want them to feel they had to change just because I had, and I began to fear that this new way of life would be a solitary one.
But then, there was you. My fast food first love, the brand name that my own brand had been built around. You had been too kind to me over the years — your convenience, your willingness to be there for me at almost any hour of the day (with the exception of 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. in most locations). You made things affordable and simple in a life full of chaos and ever-changing plans. You held an endless array of choices and you were patient and generous with even the pickiest eaters. And I know you noticed me too. With every new marketing campaign, you must have seen my name tagged in countless comments from friends and family who saw the words “Taco Bell” and thought of me.
So when I made the decision to embrace veganism, I thought I’d have to leave you. The hardest part of my decision was knowing that I’d never bask in the warm glow of your drive-thru window and whisper “chipotle chicken and loaded potato grillers” to you again. That I’d never again sit in one of your booths contemplating your chicken quesadillas. For a moment, I thought I that I had walked away from your tastefully minimalist purple and black bell logo for the last time. Do you remember how I stood by you and defended you when you changed it in 2016?
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everything I’d ever tried when we were together was some sort of meat and dairy combination. But now I was discovering your hidden depths. The rich and complex truth of what you had to offer for anyone who cared to look deeper than the surface.
And then one fateful day, I found you again. I had asked Google, with just a hint of panic in my typing, “What fast food places can I actually eat at?!” and the response was the biggest and most welcome surprise of my life: “Hey, at least Taco Bell is vegan-friendly.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everything I’d ever tried when we were together was some sort of meat and dairy combination. But now I was discovering your hidden depths. The rich and complex truth of what you had to offer for anyone who cared to look deeper than the surface.
You had an entire mysterious side to you, and it beckoned me to get to know you better.
It turns out that making vegan-friendly options wasn’t nearly as complicated as I had imagined. While other restaurants might ask me to strip off every other ingredient and eat a bowl of lettuce or a side order of steamed broccoli, you gave me more options than I could ever imagine. I might have to ditch the nacho cheese sauce, but I could easily add extra guacamole. Maybe I didn’t want a ton of black beans, but potatoes were there to swoop in and save my palate. Perhaps the chipotle ranch had to go, but red sauce was ready to make a name for itself.
And when at first I was reticent to make such seemingly demanding requests of you, you respected that, and you gave me the option to keep things low-key. All I had to do was message you on the app and tell you just what I wanted: no games, no confusion, no judgemental looks. And without hesitation, you came through for me.
And not only were you there for me, but you were still just as reliable for the rest of my friends and family. Although they didn’t fully get my commitment to veganism, I knew that none of them would object if I said: “Hey guys, let’s get Taco Bell.” You’ve proven yourself to be a place where anyone can feel welcome, and I never felt strange or exposed when I tossed your name into the ring as a fast-food option.
I’ve come a long way since I first became vegan, and I’ll never forget that you were with me during those first, faltering steps, just as you are by my side today. You have given me too many delicious 7 layer-burritos and power cantina bowls to count, but you’ve also given me so much more. You’ve given me hope. You’ve given me freedom. You’ve given me a reason to explore again and to look for the silver (vegan) lining whenever I go somewhere new.
But even as I venture out into ever new culinary experiences you will always have my heart. No matter where I go, I know that your drive-thru is never too far away.
With all my love,
A Beginning Vegan With New Hope and a Full Stomach