Taco Bell’s latest marketing campaign is simple enough: “The shell is the chicken. The chicken is the shell.” This, according to a Taco Bell Corp. press release. Sort of a play on the old chicken-or-egg quandary: Is it a shell, or is it meat?
You’ve no doubt seen the commercials for this thing called the Naked Chicken Chalupa, this abomination of poultry and Mexican food all at the same time. Well, as is my wont, my curiosity out-wrestled me yet again, and I recently bought one.
I unwrapped it, and the first thing I noticed was how small it is, especially at its $2.99 price point. It’s actually smaller than a taco, but aren’t the Bell’s chalupas usually larger? The next thing that came to mind is that I’ve never seen a chicken shaped this way before. It’s like the derelict cousin to the McRib, on the feathered side of the family.
Anyway, inside this thing was a pretty simple arrangement of iceberg lettuce, shredded cheese, tomatoes and some avocado ranch sauce — nothing really notable other than the weird shell creature. I stared at it a moment, took a photo with my phone just to have proof I actually once owned one, and then reached down and picked it up.
The texture of the “shell” isn’t as crispy as Taco Bell’s marketing geniuses would have you believe; in fact, it was a bit on the oily side. I took a bite, and… well, it was OK. I examined the thin “meat” and noted that it did indeed have chicken-like texture. And the batter was even somewhat spicy, at least for fast food, with paprika, garlic and other spices in the blend.
I took another bite, and realized that it really just tastes like what you think it tastes like, which is battered-and-fried processed chicken. It’s a dysfunctional chicken finger, really, and only a so-so one.
Now, is it interesting? Yes. Amusing even. But the novelty wore off quickly as I continued eating. Even Taco Bell learned quickly what a bad idea this thing was, as it was announced last week the Naked Chicken Chalupa will be pulled from menus in March.
Which leads to this theory: I’m pretty sure Yum! Brands is trolling us. The Bell is a guilty pleasure for me, and I occasionally get a kick out of how the restaurant chain brands itself as being edgy, but I guess that “edge” is what gives it license to do bizarre things like make chalupa shells out of birds. Still, this stunt just seems out of hand — I feel like we’re all being punked. The discontinuance makes me even more convinced it was all just a prank.
The press announcement quotes Marisa Thalberg, chief marketing officer at Taco Bell, as saying, “Something this delicious yet different is bound to ruffle some feathers; some might even cluck their tongues at it.”
That’s almost too stupid to print; I mean, that’s worse than a dad joke. When I started scratching around for more info to support my theory, I discovered a website touting a public service organization called The Council for Eating Fried Chicken the Same Way You Always Have, touting the evils of eating chicken shaped as a shell. There’s a video that mimics a 1950s anti-pot announcement, and even a diagram with arrows pointing to dangerous parts of the Naked Chicken Chalupa with warnings like, “Where are the bones?”
Clearly, this was a prank by the Taco Bell folks, but seems like a long way to go to market a piece of chicken shaped like a U. It’s a global troll. Somewhere there are highly-paid corporate executives in custom-tailored suits who not only would never eat one of these chalupa-things, but are having the laugh of their lives watching idiots like me do so.
One last note: As I finished off my chalupa bird-thing sandwich, I noted that I had wiped my hands with my napkin at least five times as I ate. Why? Because fried chicken is greasy. And I’m guessing that, when some smart person thousands of years ago came up with the idea for the corn or flour shell, he or she was in the process of trying to eat something that was extremely messy and hard to keep together. There’s a reason that person didn’t decide to use fried meat to make the shell, you know?
I’m looking forward to seeing what Taco Bell comes up with next to troll America. I can see it now: The New Taco Bell Tilapia Bowl! Or even The Wild Meat-Sack Gordita! Oh god, I hope I didn’t just give them any ideas.