Tacos or chili?
That is the spicy question state Rep. Gina Hinojosa of Austin has dropped on the plates of her fellow lawmakers. On Friday, the deadline to file most kinds of legislation, Hinojosa proposed naming the taco the official state food — supplanting chili, which has been the official dish of Texas since 1977, atop the state’s food pantheon.
Hinojosa said her proposal was written by journalist Mando Rayo. Rayo started an online petition calling for the taco to supplant chili as “The National Food of Texas” — a petition that more than 1,000 people had signed onto before he delivered a version of it written in legislation-ese earlier this year to Hinojosa, a Democrat who represents North Austin.
“I just got a real kick out of (the proposal),” Hinojosa said, “so we filed it.”
Hinojosa said she does not know whether legislators will have the stomach for a taco vs. chili debate, given that they have meatier issues to chew on, such as the state budget. The proposal would make tacos the official state food of Texas (because tacos need no dish), while chili would remain the official dish.
Hinojosa also said she is reaching out to San Antonio lawmakers to ensure that the proposal, House Concurrent Resolution 110, does not inadvertently reheat the spicy rhetoric that belched forth last year during the Interstate 35 taco war — a conflict that cooled only after the mayors of Austin and San Antonio reached an uneasy truce.
Even if leaders of the two cities can set aside the rivalry, Hinojosa’s legislation does risk spreading the conflict to any part of the state where people have strong feelings about tacos or chili — anywhere in Texas, really. She filed her proposal mere days after state Rep. Stephanie Klick had offered a way to recognize tacos without pitting them against chili.
Klick, a Fort Worth Republican, wants to designate breakfast tacos “the official state breakfast item of Texas.” Her House Concurrent Resolution 92 declares that despite “a spirited debate (that) has arisen over which part of the state originated the breakfast taco … no matter where or when it got its start, the breakfast taco has quickly become popular with both native Texans and delighted visitors from across the nation.”
Klick, who said she makes breakfast tacos at home and counts Torchy’s and Rudy’s among her favorites, said she filed the legislation partly as an educational exercise. Her office is working with several schools whose civics classes are tracking the breakfast taco legislation.
“It is a good lesson in how a bill becomes a law,” Klick said. “It’s a noncontroversial issue, and it’s fun.”
The breakfast taco can spark passions, though. The I-35 taco war started early last year when an Austin Eater article declared the state capital the dish’s birthplace. Soon after, a San Antonio resident started a petition to kick the writer out of Texas. San Antonians cried that the breakfast taco claim was yet another example of Austin arrogance, a charge Austin Mayor Steve Adler answered by declaring the taco war.
Klick’s proposal does not address which breakfast tacos are best — or which city. But it does go on to state, “Whether purchased at a drive-through in Fort Worth, ordered at a restaurant in Corpus Christi, or served by a loving grandmother in Del Rio, the breakfast taco has become a signature Texas food on a par with barbecue and chicken-fried steak, and it is enjoyed by countless residents of the Lone Star State each morning as the perfect way to start their day.”
Hinojosa has similarly ebullient praise for the taco. Her proposal declares, “As far as fillings go, we delight in such traditional choices as pork al pastor, beef barbacoa, and chicken fajita, and we also appreciate the more exotic ingredients that have been pressed into service, including everything from octopus to elk to kimchi fried rice.”