Taco Bell leapt right into the grease-fueled flames of the fast food chicken wars on Monday, with the unveiling of its much-anticipated new fried chicken menu item, the Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco. While it remains to be seen if this sandwich-taco hybrid will convert Popeyes Chicken Sandwich fans to the taco side, so to speak (probably not), the Louisiana-style chicken chain is already trolling it on Tuesday with a new menu hack created specifically for taco lovers.
Popeyes posted a step-by-step “TikTurial” of the menu hack on TikTok, complete with the amusingly inaccurate text-to-speech effect. The company created the hack to ensure customers can enjoy fried chicken tacos and “maintain the high quality that they have grown to know and love from Popeyes,” according to a spokesperson. Translation: Forget about Taco Bell’s new take on a chicken sandwich and turn our actual chicken sandwich into tacos, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Notably, the menu hack leaves you with two of the so-called tacos. Here are the steps outlined in the TikTok post:
1. Order the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich. 2. Remove chicken fillet from the bun. 3. Rub the top and bottom bun pieces together to spread the sauce. 4. Tear or cut the chicken fillet in half. 5. Fold the top and bottom bun pieces like tacos, then place the chicken fillet halves in each and garnish with the pickles.
Or… you can just skip steps two through five and just eat your chicken sandwich like a sandwich—you know, without having to play with your food. Then again, we won’t judge if you want to try the hack just for fun. That’s presumably what Popeyes is going for here. That, and snark. The chain did start the chicken wars with that shade-filled Chick-fil-A tweet after all.
Famed comedian Godfrey opened up to VladTV about the media seemingly choosing to focus on one black comedian at a time. He explained that it definitely seems that way in the industry, and Godfrey added that he’s even asked to be more like Kevin Hart or Chris Rock when he goes out for auditions.
During the conversation, Godfrey also spoke about black female comedians not getting any respect in the industry, and being tired of people saying that black comedians are bitter.
To hear more, including growing up in Chicago, hit the above clip.
Instacart started as a grocery delivery service. But it’s increasingly moving into delivering office supplies, sporting goods, televisions, makeup and drug store essentials.
Its latest move: Instacart announced a partnership with Walgreens (WBA) Tuesday for same-day delivery on over-the-counter medications, beauty items and other drug store purchases. The partnership will start in Illinois and expand across the United States in the coming weeks to nearly 8,000 Walgreens stores.
The tie-up is happening as online shopping accelerates during the pandemic, and both Instacart and Walgreens are looking for ways to reach new customers.
Instacart is competing against Amazon (AMZN) and other delivery platforms like Postmates, DoorDash and Shipt, which is owned by Target. Teaming up with Walgreens helps Instacart continue to try to become an alternative to Amazon.
“Adding another big retail name to its roster is a win for Instacart,” Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail, said in an email. “Given Walgreens’ massive store footprint, this expands choice for a lot of Instacart users.”
Instacart mainly uses independent contract workers, not its own employees, to deliver orders, and its contract workers will shop for the items at Walgreens stores and then deliver them.
Since the pandemic began in March, Instacart has added hundreds of thousands of new contract workers. The company has also struck partnerships since then with Best Buy (BBY), Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS), Sephora and Staples as it seeks to deliver a wider range of goods from top retailers. In August, Instacart partnered with Walmart (WMT), one of Amazon’s biggest competitors, to deliver groceries, home decor and electronics items.
CEO Apoorva Mehta told CNN Business in 2019 that an IPO for Instacart is “on the horizon,” and Instacart was valued at $17.7 billion in its latest round of funding in October.
In addition to the Instacart partnership, Walgreens offers delivery through Postmates and DoorDash and curbside pickup on online orders.
Drug stores have been focused on being local and convenient options for customers to grab essential items, but the rise of online shopping and home delivery has threatened that position, said Saunders. “Being on a platform like Instacart helps to remedy the weakness.” And since Walgreens does not have a delivery infrastructure of its own, it is partnering with companies that do, he said.
Aunt Jemima syrups and pancake mixes will be rebranded as Pearl Milling Company, PepsiCo said on Tuesday.
“Though new to store shelves, Pearl Milling Company was founded in 1888 in St. Joseph, Missouri, and was the originator of the iconic self-rising pancake mix that would later become known as Aunt Jemima,” the company said in a press release.
PepsiCo, which owns Quaker Oats, said in June 2020 it would change the brand name on its Aunt Jemima products, which had long been criticized for their roots in racial stereotypes.
Launched about 130 years ago, the Aunt Jemima brand was in part based on racist stereotyping and imagery, like those seen in minstrel show performances.
“While work has been done over the years to evolve our brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize that those changes are not enough,” the company said on its updated website on Tuesday.
Aunt Jemima was one of several brands on grocery store shelves that came under scrutiny last year, as the US erupted with protests following the killing of George Floyd. The Uncle Ben’s brand, owned by Mars, in September became Ben’s Original. That brand also dropped its character image.
The newly rebranded Pearl Milling products will begin hitting shelves in June, PepsiCo said. The company’s products will continue to be Aunt Jemima until then, though they’ll no longer use the character images.
The company on Tuesday released pictures of its newly rebranded products, which have the familiar red-white-and-yellow coloring. They’ve been updated with the new brand name, along with smaller tags that say: “New name, same great taste, Aunt Jemima.”
Along with the rebranding, PepsiCo said Pearl Milling Company planned to announce a $1 million grant program committed to empowering black girls and women. PepsiCo previously announced an about $400 million investment in black businesses and communities, the company said.
The 400-year curse dragging Indonesia’s capital into the sea.
Like many coastal cities around the world, Jakarta is dealing with sea level rise. But Indonesia’s biggest city also has a unique problem: Because of restricted water access in the city, the majority of its residents have to extract groundwater to survive. And it’s causing the city to sink. Today, Jakarta is the world’s fastest-sinking city.
The problem gets worse every year, but the root of it precedes modern Indonesia by centuries. In the 1600s, when the Dutch landed in Indonesia and built present-day Jakarta, they divided up the city to segregate the population. Eventually, that segregation led to an unequal water piping system that excluded most Indigenous Jakartans, forcing them to find other ways to get water.
To understand how it all ties together, and what’s in store for Jakarta’s future, watch the video above.
The car-sized Perseverance, the most advanced robot ever sent to the Red Planet, aced its “seven minutes of terror” touchdown this afternoon (Feb. 18), alighting gently on an ancient lakebed inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater shortly before 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT).
After a series of instrument and hardware checkouts, Perseverance will start doing what it crossed interplanetary space to do: hunt for signs of ancient Mars life, collect and cache rock samples for future return to Earth and demonstrate some shiny new exploration technologies, among other things.
“I don’t think we’ve had a mission that is going to contribute so much to both science and technology,” NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk told Space.com earlier this week . “It’s going to be truly amazing.”
Perseverance, the heart of NASA’s $2.7 billion Mars 2020 mission, lifted off from Florida’s Space Coast atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on July 30, 2020.
That was about halfway through Perseverance’s month-long launch window, which closed in mid-August. Such windows come along just once every 26 months for Mars missions, so NASA was determined to get the rover off the ground on time — a challenging task made even tougher by the coronavirus pandemic, which forced a rethink of assembly and testing protocols and made it harder for the team to travel.
“In March and early April, we weren’t sure we were going to be able to make it,” Jurczyk said. (Back then, the NASA chief was Jim Bridenstine, and Jurczyk led the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.)
The rover’s name is a testament to the spirit that got the mission off the ground and on its way to Mars, agency officials have said.
“Perseverance is a strong word,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in March 2020 during the rover’s naming ceremony. “It’s about making progress despite obstacles.”
Like NASA’s other Mars rovers, Perseverance got its name via a nationwide student competition. The winning moniker was submitted by Alex Mather, at the time a seventh grader at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia.
The six-wheeled Perseverance is modeled heavily after its predecessor, NASA’s Curiosity rover, which touched down inside Mars’ huge Gale Crater in August 2012 and is still going strong today.
Perseverance is a few inches longer than Curiosity and, with a weight of 2,260 lbs. (1,025 kilograms), nearly 300 lbs. (136 kg) heavier. Some of their scientific instruments are also quite different. But the two rovers share the same basic body plan and the same type of nuclear power source, and they used the same strategy to land safely on the Red Planet.
That strategy, which Curiosity pioneered, sounds like something out of science fiction. Perseverance hit the Martian atmosphere at about 12,100 mph (19,500 kph) and deployed a 70.5-foot-wide (20.5 meters) parachute a few minutes later, while still traveling faster than the speed of sound.
But Mars’ air is just 1% as thick as that of Earth, so a chute couldn’t slow the rover down enough for a safe landing. Mars 2020 therefore employed a rocket-powered sky crane, which lowered the Mars car to the red dirt on cables, then flew off to crash-land intentionally a safe distance away.
NASA received word that Perseverance had gotten down safely at 3:55 p.m. EST (2055 GMT) today, about 11 minutes after the landing actually took place. (It currently takes that long for signals to travel from the Red Planet to Earth.) The news prompted wild celebrations at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, which manages the Mars 2020 mission.
There was doubtless a decent dose of relief mixed in with the excitement, for success today was far from guaranteed. Over the decades, only about half of Mars surface missions have touched down safely. And Perseverance’s landing site on Jezero’s floor, which features hazards such as cliffs, sand dunes and boulder fields, was the toughest ever targeted by a Mars mission, NASA officials have said.
Indeed, this dangerous terrain required Perseverance to make the most precise Red Planet touchdown ever. The rover’s landing ellipse was just 4.8 miles long by 4.1 miles wide (7.7 by 6.6 kilometers), compared to 4 miles by 12 miles (7 by 12 km) for Curiosity.
Perseverance hit that target today with the aid of two new entry, descent and landing (EDL) technologies that Curiosity didn’t have at its disposal. One, called “range trigger,” allowed the mission to deploy its supersonic parachute at just the right moment. The other, “terrain-relative navigation,” enabled Perseverance’s sky crane to assess the Jezero landscape and navigate autonomously around potential hazards during the descent.
These landing technologies worked exactly as planned, guiding Perseverance to a picture-perfect touchdown on a safe, flat part of Jezero’s floor, mission team members said during a post-landing news conference this afternoon.
And the rover seems to have made it through EDL in fine shape. Perseverance has already beamed home its first images of its new surroundings, and initial health checks revealed no causes for concern.
“The power system looks good,” Mars 2020 deputy project manager Jennifer Trosper, also of JPL, said during today’s briefing. “The batteries are charged at 95%, and everything looks great.”
Curiosity is a habitability-assessing mission, and that rover has found plenty of evidence that Gale Crater could have supported Earth-like life billions of years ago. Perseverance will take the next step, actively searching for signs of past organisms in the first life hunt conducted on the Martian surface since NASA’s twin Viking landers ceased operations in the early 1980s. (The Vikings looked for present-day Mars life, however, whereas Perseverance is focused on the distant past.)
Jezero is a great place to do such work, mission team members have said. The crater, which lies about 18 degrees north of the Martian equator, hosted a lake the size of Lake Tahoe long ago and also sports an ancient river delta. In addition, Mars orbiters have spied on Jezero’s floor clay minerals, which form in the presence of liquid water.
Perseverance will scrutinize Martian dirt and rock with a variety of high-tech science gear, including multiple spectrometers, high-resolution cameras and ground-penetrating radar. One of the rover’s seven instruments, called SuperCam, will zap rocks with a laser and gauge the composition of the resulting vapor.
Such observations could potentially identify a convincing sign of ancient Mars life — perhaps something akin to stromatolites, structures created here on Earth by dirt-trapping microbial mats. But that’s a tall order for a lonely robot far from home. A positive ID of Martian life, if it ever existed, will likely require analyses by advanced equipment in laboratories here on Earth, NASA officials have said. And Mars 2020 aims to help make that happen.
Using the drill at the end of its long robotic arm, Perseverance will collect about 40 samples from especially promising sites and seal them inside special tubes. This material will then be brought back to Earth by a joint NASA-European Space Agency campaign, perhaps as early as 2031.
Once here, the samples will be studied in countless ways by hundreds of scientists for decades to come. Researchers are still poring over the moon rocks hauled home by NASA’s Apollo astronauts half a century ago, after all, and that material has no serious astrobiological potential.
“Mars sample return is the planetary science endeavor of our generation,” Bobby Braun, director of solar system exploration at JPL, said during a pre-landing news conference yesterday (Feb. 17).
“It’s ambitious. It’s challenging. It’s a scientifically compelling goal that, over decades, we have been working toward,” Braun said. “And it’s right there. It’s just within our reach.”
Mars 2020 will also pave the way for more ambitious exploration of the Red Planet in the future, if all goes according to plan.
For example, one of Perseverance’s instruments, called MOXIE (“Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment”), is designed to generate oxygen from the Red Planet’s atmosphere, which is 95% carbon dioxide by volume. Such equipment, if scaled up, could help humanity get a foothold on Mars down the road, NASA officials have said. (“ISRU,” by the way, is short for “in situ resource utilization,” a fancy term for living off the land.)
And attached to Perseverance’s belly is a 4-lb. (1.8 kg) helicopter named Ingenuity, which will attempt to become the first rotorcraft ever to fly in the skies of a world beyond Earth. If Ingenuity succeeds, helicopters could soon become an important part of the Mars-exploration toolkit.
“We could put sensors on them and use them as science platforms, and also as scouts,” Jurczyk said. Aerial reconnaissance by rotorcraft could allow rovers to “drive more autonomously, and drive faster and longer on the surface,” he added.
Comedians Godfrey and Andre Kim discuss junk food, ethnic restaurants, and Super Bowl Sunday. Plus, the guys discuss Utah allowing schools to opt out of celebrating Black History Month, a woman suing Gorilla Glue for ruining her hair. Plus, a new documentary about legendary comedian Patrice O’Neal leads Godfrey to reminisce on his greatest memories with Patrice. Real Talk (twice a week!) with Godfrey and Andre Kim, ONLY on In Godfrey We Trust Podcast!
This is the unemployment rate during the COVID-19 pandemic. And this is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ net worth during that same time span. From March to June 2020, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos saw his wealth rise by an estimated $48 billion. The founder of the video-conferencing platform Zoom grew his nest egg by over $2.5 billion, and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s net worth increased by $15.7 billion.
These kinds of examples might lead you to think that when billionaires profit during a crisis, it’s just a matter of right place, right time. Well, that’s not false, but it’s not entirely true either. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson saw his wealth increase by $5 billion, while Elon Musk saw an increase of $17.2 billion. When you add up the numbers, billionaires in the United States have increased their total net worth $637 billion during the COVID-19 pandemic so far.
At the same time, more than 40 million Americans filed for unemployment. With tens of millions of Americans out of a paycheck and the stock market plummeting by 37% in March, how is it that the rich have continued getting richer?
This isn’t the first time billionaires have seen gains while a large portion of Americans were feeling losses. When the housing bubble burst in 2007, home prices fell 21% and roughly 3.1 million homes were foreclosed on in the United States. The stock market plummeted by over 50%. And by the end of 2009, 8.8 million Americans had lost their jobs. And the effects lingered. From 2009 to 2012, the incomes of the bottom 99% grew by only 0.4%, but the income of the top 1% grew by a staggering 31.4% in the same time span. And it all ties back to two things.
First, the government disproportionately gave more aid to banks and corporations. In 2008, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act was signed into law, creating a $700 billion program to purchase devalued assets from banks. This was called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Later, President Obama would direct $75 billion in funds from TARP to help reduce interest payments for homeowners. That means homeowners received around 10% of the direct relief that banks and corporations did.
And this leads to reason No. 2. When the stock market bounced back, the unequal bailouts meant that the wealthy still had money on hand to invest and thus profit, while the middle and lower classes did not. In 2008, the Federal Reserve lowered short-term interest rates to near zero. They would remain that low for nearly a decade. This paved the way for a historic bull market on Wall Street that began in 2009 and lasted until March 2020, when the pandemic hit.
In that time, the S&P 500 gained 462%. That means that a $1,000 investment in the S&P 500 at the low point of the financial crisis could have returned roughly $4,620, while someone who could afford a $1 million investment could have pulled in over $4.6 million.
By 2009, the world’s high-net-worth individuals had grown their share of global wealth by 19% to $39 trillion, recouping nearly all of their losses in a single year. That quick recovery and larger share of the world’s wealth enabled them to continue to make money at an exponential rate. In fact, the top 1% captured 95% of the income gains made from 2009 to 2012. And by 2020, the combined wealth of the billionaire class in the United States had increased by over 80%.
Which brings us back to the moment when the coronavirus pandemic rocked the economy. In 2019, the Fed reported that four in 10 Americans didn’t have enough cash in their bank accounts to cover a $400 unexpected expense. And in the first few months of 2020, 40 million Americans found themselves unemployed due to COVID-19. Many small businesses had to close due to lockdowns and social distancing, while others were forced to try to operate with entirely remote staff.
The Small Business Administration made $349 billion available to small businesses with the Paycheck Protection Program. But like in 2008, $243 million of that was snapped up by large, publicly traded corporations, some of which were valued at over $100 million. Even hedge funds submitted claims to try to tap into what they saw as free money.
On March 16, 2020, just five days after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the Dow suffered the worst single-day points drop in its history. But by June 4, seven of the world’s richest people had seen their fortunes increase by over 50%. Part of what made this possible was a stock-market rebound fueled both by the Paycheck Protection Program and actions by the Fed. Again, the Fed lowered short-term interest rates for banks to near 0%, and as before, they have promised to hold those rates low until the economy is on track.
This is a cycle that has happened time and time again. During the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, only 2.5% of the $195 million of relief funds went to Haitian companies. Much of the rest was awarded to DC-based construction companies. And when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, real-estate developer Joseph Canizaro said the clearing out caused by Katrina represented some “very big opportunities.” Canizaro was selected as part of a panel to develop the Bring New Orleans Back plan, part of which put a stop on reconstruction of low-income neighborhoods until the residents returned. Of course, residents couldn’t return to their destroyed homes, and many were foreclosed on, paving the way for others to buy those properties and develop them.
When the time did come to rebuild New Orleans, the engineering and construction company KBR received no-bid contracts from the federal government for tens of millions of dollars. KBR received $31 billion in contracts from the government between 2001 and 2010. Vice President Dick Cheney served as CEO of KBR’s parent company, Halliburton, for the five years leading up to his two terms in office.
Combined with their immense investing and purchasing power, billionaires have had government resources in addition to their own resources to profit from during economic upheavals. And wealth-friendly tax laws and loopholes then keep those billionaires at the top. Legal structures such as limited liability companies protect personal assets from being repossessed to pay the debts from business downturns. As it’s set up today, IRS rules allowed Amazon to pay $0 in taxes two years in a row. When its bill finally came due in 2019, it paid just $162 million, a measly 1.2% of the company’s income that year.
And it’s not just Amazon. Taxes paid by billionaires have decreased 79% since 1980. And those are just the legal avenues that the wealthy take to avoid paying taxes. In 2017, researchers estimated that about 10% of the world’s GDP was stashed in offshore tax havens. A study in 2012 found that as much as $32 trillion was being held offshore by the world’s wealthiest people.
So, after reviewing all this, what can be done to help level the playing field? A recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies lays out several action items. It suggests forming a pandemic profiteering oversight committee that would go beyond the oversight of federal stimulus money. It also supports the Corporate Transparency Act, which would create stronger regulations to prevent US billionaires from using shell corporations to hide their income. After the House passed the bill in 2019, it was introduced in the Senate but has not been brought to a vote.
Other suggestions include an emergency 10% millionaire income surtax, a stimulus package aimed at funding charities, instituting a wealth tax, and reducing the amount allowed by the gift and estate tax. Last, and perhaps most importantly, the report underscores the need to shut down the global hidden-wealth economy. The US alone is estimated to lose nearly $200 billion in tax revenues to offshore havens each year. That’s roughly three times the amount of all the money budgeted for the Department of Education in 2021.
Changes like the ideas above are global in scale and require political cooperation to become reality. If the relationship between wealth and income inequality are ever going to change, it’s going to require all of us.’
LeBron James is preparing to join PepsiCo after a long-standing sponsorship with Coca-Cola, sources told Front Office Sports.
James would join a growing team of NBA and WNBA stars pitching the rebranded “MTN DEW”: Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans; Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers; Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets; and A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces.
According to sources, James will become the face of Mountain Dew’s upcoming “Rise Energy” line after nearly 18 years as an endorser for Coca-Cola’s Sprite and Powerade brands.
The 36-year old James could also pitch Pepsi’s flagship cola brand, said sources.
The pending deal may also include integration with Blaze Pizza, which currently offers Coca-Cola products at its more than 300 locations. James owns an approximate 10% stake of the chain.
Representatives for PepsiCo declined to comment. A spokesperson for James also declined to comment.
An 18-year-old James first signed with Coca-Cola in 2003 as a No. 1 draft pick. The four-time MVP has since appeared regularly in Sprite and Powerade commercials. In 2014 the beverage giant gave him his own signature drink, “Sprite 6 Mix by LeBron James.”
A spokesperson for Coca-Cola told Front Office Sports that his deal with the Atlanta-based soda giant expired in September.
“LeBron’s contract came up at a time when both he and The Coca-Cola Company were actively reviewing all of its resources to make sure it was investing in places that ensured long-term growth,” Coca-Cola said. “After many discussions with Lebron and his team, we mutually agreed to part ways.”
PepsiCo’s beverage brands and the NBA have become increasingly entwined.
In 2015, PepsiCo replaced Coca-Cola as the official food and beverage partner of the NBA and WNBA. The blockbuster deal ended Coke’s 28-year partnership with the NBA.
Rather than playing up its eponymous cola, PepsiCo has focused its NBA advertising and activations on citrus-flavored Mountain Dew.
The 2020 All-Star Game’s 3-Point Contest introduced the “DEW Zone” — two attempts from six feet behind the arc, worth three points each. For the third straight year, Mountain Dew also offered fans a branded “Courtside Studio,” with player appearances, music and fashion.
Parent PepsiCo, meanwhile, expanded into caffeinated beverages, buying Rockstar energy drinks for $3.85 billion last March.
James is one of the world’s most popular and successful endorsers, following the path blazed by the likes of Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.
He signed a lifetime deal with Nike in 2015 that could be worth as much as $1 billion over its duration. He’s been one of the brand’s key ambassadors since he entered the league with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It’s estimated that James will eclipse $1 billion in career earnings before he retires from the NBA; his endorsements, production companies and other sources account for more than half of that figure.
In December, James signed a two-year extension with the Lakers that will push his career NBA earnings past $420 million by the conclusion of the 2022-23 season.
Mexican food confused me when I first moved to Texas. What I considered to be quintessential Tex-Mex, like sizzling fajita platters and enchiladas smothered in yellow cheese, were on the same menu as “traditional” Mexican favorites, like tacos al pastor and chiles en nogada. I even encountered a restaurant serving the Lone Star state’s famous queso dip next to cochinita pibil (a specialty from the Yucatán Peninsula) wrapped in flour tortillas. I didn’t know what to make of it. But after talking to several chefs, I learned that the distinction between Mexican and Tex-Mex food has actually been evolving for years, and has even recently started to blur.
The cuisine we now call Tex-Mex is rooted in the state’s Tejano culture (Texans of Spanish or Mexican heritage who lived in Texas before it became a republic) and also Mexican immigrants who hailed largely from Northern Mexico. Until the 1970s, though, most people referred to it simply as Mexican food. In The Tex-Mex Cookbook, Texas food expert Robb Walsh credits Diana Kennedy with removing Tex-Mex from the discussion of traditional Mexican cuisine.
Rick Bayless, however, recently told me at the Austin Food and Wine Festival that when he wrote the draft of his first cookbook, Authentic Mexican, he featured seven culinary regions of Mexico, including the Southwestern United States. “You could even break that down further into the cuisines of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and even the ranchos of California,” he added. Perhaps his view differs from Kennedy’s because he grew up in Oklahoma eating Tex-Mex two or three times a week.
If you’re looking to identify the distinguishing characteristics of Tex-Mex, enchiladas are a good case study. In the classic Tex-Mex version of cheese enchiladas, grated yellow cheese is wrapped in tortillas, and then covered in a dark red chili sauce mixed with ground beef. You’ll also find other typical Tex-Mex ingredients like pinto beans and rice served on the side.
Another difference is the abundant use of cumin in Tex-Mex cuisine. “We use it a lot in the north, but it’s not a spice we use much in the southern part of Mexico,” says de la Vega. Robb Walsh links the heavy use of cumin to the first wave of Canary Islanders who emigrated to San Antonio in the 1700s. Today it’s still a key ingredient in chili con carne, along with chili powder, which, according to Walsh, is a uniquely Texan invention developed by a German immigrant in New Braunfels in the late 1890s. In the late 1800’s, chili con carne was regularly ladled out at bargain prices in the streets of San Antonio at its famed chili stands. “Tex-Mex was never the cuisine of the upper echelon of society,” Bayless observes. “It’s a peasant, working class cuisine.”
The Tex-Mex that most of us think of, full of Velveeta cheese and pre-made taco shells, was shaped by the development of convenience foods in the 1950s. That time period left Tex-Mex, and even Mexican food in general, with a reputation as “just a cheap cuisine, full of sour cream and processed cheese, and that everything is greasy,” says de la Vega.
Fortunately, that perception has changed. “Tex-Mex has now evolved to a different stage,” says Bayless. “It was once a very simple cuisine, but now there are a variety of dishes on the menus.”
Carlos Rivero agrees. “‘Mexican’ is a very broad term because that profile encompasses so many different flavors and ingredients,” explains Rivero. “When you come to El Chile, you can have a modern take on Mexican or you can have the die-hard fajita platter. It’s up to you.”
As the line between traditional Mexican and Tex-Mex continues to evolve, it may become harder to separate the two. As Iliana de la Vega notes, “Either Tex-Mex or traditional Mexican, we can all live together. As long as it’s well-executed food, then, why not?”