The Crunchwrap Supreme, according to Taco Bell
Crunchwrap Supremes are so hot right now. But they weren’t always living the best life. They too had their rough patches, as we all may have had. But one day, the Crunchwrap had enough and had to show everyone who was boss.
Me too, Crunchwrap. Me too. The struggle is real.
The Crunchwrap has that type of attitude that your mama warned you about.
Reminds me of a patch I saw at Pride that read: “We’re the queers your mama warned you about.”
I imagine the Crunchwrap flipping me off and scoffing at my doctoral education. To be honest, I’m sick of this elitist shit, too.
It knew what it wanted and it knows it’s hot. But hey, flaunt it if you got it, right?
The Crunchwrap is a slut with no fucks to give.
It’s crunchy, yet still soft and chewy somehow; it knows its balance. It fits everything you could possibly want or need into a one-handed lunch staple…With seasoned beef, nacho cheese sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, reduced fat sour cream and a crunchy tostada shell for extra loud chewability.
Yes, intersecting layers. A mixture of paradoxical locations, sensations, sounds, and textures. Blurs binaries. Loud and soft. Cool and hot. Singular and plural.
While other meal OGs end their culinary careers booking shows at regional casinos to help pay rent… Universities offer the Crunchwrap Supreme® honorary doctorates just so that it will speak at invocation. But it is the Crunchwrap Supreme® who does the schooling.
I wonder: What can Taco Bell consumption and the Crunchwrap teach us about academic disciplinization, “success,” fatness, food, and queer resistance? Can it teach us anything?
Of course, these little character vignettes on the Taco Bell website could just be clever corporate efforts to separate me from my $3.59. As scholar Jean Killbourne suggests in her 2001 documentary Killing Us Softly, Taco Bell may be trying to sell more cheap, unhealthy food by transforming the Crunchwrap into a “sexy” and “desirable” anthropomorphic figure. Killbourne’s theory may be right and yet, something about that analytical pathway feels too easy for this Taco Bell-loving fatty. What about the act of eating itself? What about the body the food goes into? What happens politically, socially, and culturally when I walk into a Taco Bell and order my favorite Crunchwrap Supreme? Eating anything–particularly in public–as a fat queer trans person is a highly fraught activity. My body is a site for sexed and gendered speculation, fat abjection, revulsion, and social control. There is nothing simple about eating Taco Bell.
Queer Failures, Frivolity, and Pleasure Politics
My analysis of Taco Bell consumption is both serious and frivolous, significant and petty. I offer a queer reading of fat-eating that mirrors the playful, anti-elitist spirit of the Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme all while being serious as hell about gender, consumption, and size and how it shapes our contemporary imagination about fat bodies. Thus, my choice to write about Taco Bell is an intentional act of academic failure. My methods are simultaneously disastrous and productive, unorthodox and canonical. As Jack Halberstam writes in The Queer Art of Failure:
Being taken seriously means missing out on the chance to be frivolous, promiscuous, and irrelevant…The desire to be taken seriously is precisely what compels people to follow the tried and true paths of knowledge production…Indeed, terms like serious and rigorous tend to be code words for disciplinary correctness; they signal a form of training and learning that confirms what is already known according to approved methods of knowing, but they do not allow for visionary insights or flights of fancy. (6)
Writing about queer failures, fast food, and consumption through the onto-epistemic location of fat embodiment enables a queer (r)ea(d)ting of Taco Bell consumption, melding the frivolity of pleasure with the seriousness of fat resistance. The Crunchwrap Supreme, specifically, acts as a model for the kind of intersectional, transgender, queer, fat pleasure-infused inquiry I seek. According to Adrianne Maree Brown, author of Pleasure Activism: “[P]leasure is a measure of freedom…[it is intended to] decrease any internal or projected shame around the pursuit of pleasure” (1). According to Brown, pleasure activism is a liberatory practice intended to reduce stigma, shame, and forms of social control that limit bodily freedom. The Crunchwrap–multifaceted, multilayered, and paradoxically structured–highlights the intersecting nature of fast food, fat eating, and queerness. It offers temporary moments of pure pleasure and alternatives to diet-industry fat respectability. The Crunchwrap is slutty and promiscuous; an irreverent “fuck you” to middle-class cisgender heterosexual respectability. It acknowledges Taco Bell as the capitalist version of racial Others’ culture, the appropriation and bastardization of Tex-Mex cuisine for mass consumption (hooks 1992). At the same time, the Crunchwrap calls into question elitist and inaccessible forms of pleasure-seeking and celebrates moments of everyday fat, queer pleasure.
Bad Fatties (R)ea(d)ting Taco Bell: Challenging Performative Eating and the Good Fatty Archetype
For the purposes of this essay, I use the term “fat” to deliberately to describe bodies that have been subjected to size and weight-based prejudice. Moreover, body liberation activism reclaims the word “fat” from its usual negative connotations and transforms “fat” into a viable social category of difference (LeBesco 2003; Wann 1998). As a highly visible embodiment, eating Taco Bell as a fat person instantly collapses all social possibility of a moral, disciplined subject and reflects the failure of the fat person to conform to social expectations. Failure, here, is a highly politicized concept that rejects progress narratives associated with weight loss, thin-spiration, and food policing. Always conceptualized as failures, fat bodies are perceived as undisciplined, undesirable, lazy, and out of control. The inability to embody the thin, heterosexual, middle-class ideal and the refusal to engage in acts of discipline renders these bodies wholly unacceptable (Bordo 1993; Braziel and LeBesco 2001; Orbach 1982; Michinson 2018). However, Stacy Bias suggests that fat bodies can be socially redeemed through specific acts of individual discipline. The “Good Fatty” archetype describes: “a [fat person] who is trying or is at least believes they should no longer be a fatty” (2014). “Good” fat bodies are those that attempt to engage in self-control through overt acts of body-discipline such as commitments to weight-loss, performative exercise, food restriction, or expressed desire to be thin. Activist and author Lindy West asserts that western culture associates unattainable thinness and performative eating with the promise of happiness:
As a fat person you’re supposed to perform this public penance [for being fat]. We tell people very explicitly that happiness is the reward for a thin body and all of your problems will be solved if you finally make your body smaller…people spend years and years of their lives chasing this promise of happiness.
Thus, good fat bodies are always “in progress,” moving toward a more socially acceptable embodiment and performing public displays of “healthy” food consumption (Bias 2014; West 2018). Halberstam’s queer politics of failure directly challenges the underlying progress narratives associated with good fatty morality, suggesting that intentionally acting in unacceptable ways–such as eating Taco Bell while fat–undermines the disciplining control of “success,” “positivity,” and “hard work” enmeshed in the good fatty archetype. Engaging in “forbidden” eating and resisting diet-industry culture casts that individual as a “bad fatty.” Bad fatties don’t make it their life’s purpose to lose weight. Bad fatties engage in short-term pleasure and impulsivity through forbidden and pleasurable eating. Bad fatties transgress boundaries, question notions of space, place, and time by refusing to be invisible. Bad fatties challenge gendered, sexed, classed and raced boundaries, demonstrating that these divisions are socially created and arbitrary notions (Braziel and LeBesco 2001; Strings 2019). Bad fatties fail to “know their place” and refuse to diminish themselves or make themselves more palatable for others. Bad fatties enjoy their Crunchwrap, Cheesy Gordita Crunch, and Nacho Supreme plates, unapologetically and in public. A queer fat (r)ea(d)ting of Bad Fatties at Taco Bell interrupts progress narratives that associate success with thinness and offers a momentary indulgence in irrevernent pleasure purely for the sake of feeling pleasure. A momentary indulgence in pleasurable eating directly contradicts acceptable pathways to fat existence and resists bodily social control. Fat (r)ea(d)ting embroils thin normalcy in a thick layer of hot nacho sauce of dissent.
Live Fast, Eat Trash: Gender, Revulsion, and Eating Taco Bell in Public
Policing, shaming, and disciplining the consumption practices of fat bodies is a highly gendered process. The public sphere is historically associated with masculinity whereas the private sphere is associated with the feminine (Lavender 1998). Thus, women eating in public are subjected to the gendered public/private divide and often experience social pressure to eat delicately and in a self-controlled manner (West 2018). As a genderqueer transmasculine person, my fat body gets treated differently depending on how my gender is read. If I am read as masculine by other people, my Taco Bell consumption is more or less accepted as a legitimate form of masculine self-expression. I am allowed to be entitled and self-serving in the presence of others. I can spread my legs wide, wipe sour cream off my face with my sleeve, and ask for extra nacho sauce. However, if I am read as a woman or gender ambiguous, I am much more likely to receive comments about what I’m eating alongside snide comments about my facial hair and questions about where I belong on the gender binary. Here, the visibility of my fatness is a highly gendered phenomenon (Bergman 2009; Orbach 1983), amplified by my choice to eat Taco Bell.
Revulsion toward fat and gender non-conforming people is further compounded by the food itself and the spaces that fat people occupy. Andrea McEaneaney’s short experimental film Deepest Taco Bell suggests that fast food restaurants such as Taco Bell are often conceptualized as “throw away” places (109). I read McEaneaney’s documentary gaze as a socio-spatial analysis of Taco Bell restaurants wherein patrons who eat at Taco Bell are closely associated garbage. “Bad eaters” consuming “bad food” (Biltekoff 2013) at “throw away” places incites revulsion in others. However, the revulsion associated with fatness can be subverted for liberatory purposes. “Revolting” and “disgusting” have historically been used to marginalize non-normative others and can be subverted to undermine the status quo (Sycamore 2008). For fat bodies, “revolting” can be considered an act of resistance. Kathleen LeBesco, author of Revolting Bodies, argues:
If we think of revolting in terms of overthrowing authority, rebelling, protesting, and rejecting then corpulence carries a whole new weight as a subversive cultural practice that calls into question received notions about health, beauty, and nature. (1-2)
LeBesco argues that fat abjection and revulsion can be used by fat people as a tool for self-liberation. We can question the thin-bodied norm and challenge cultural healthism by eating as we please. We can allow ourselves to experience pleasure through frivolous acts of consumption without shame. So, just get the Crunchwrap. Take a generous bite, let the nacho cheese ooze from the corners of your mouth. Lick the juices from your fingers. Feel the chilly sensation of a cold Mountain Dew Baja Blast in your hands. Savor the burn of Taco Bell hot sauce pricking your tongue and feel yourself. There’s no shame in Crunchwrap’s game.
Sam R. Schmitt is a doctoral candidate in Multicultural Women and Gender Studies at Texas Woman’s University and currently works as an adjunct professor at Augsburg University. Sam is fat, queer, trans, and a recovering/former-vegetarian. Sam is interested in a variety of topics including fat politics, queer theory, and transgender studies and is always down for a trip to Taco Bell. Learn more about Sam at: http://www.samrschmitt.com
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