As all people who love themselves and want to start their day on a good note know, the breakfast taco is the most important taco of the day. And while countless non-Texans get introduced to the concept in Austin every March during SXSW, the claim that the breakfast taco “belongs” to Austin is a controversial one.
Still, that didn’t stop our friends at Eater Austin from publishing a feature by New York–based writer Matthew Sedacca—under the headline “How Austin Became the Home of the Crucial Breakfast Taco”—that describes the breakfast taco as “the city’s beloved morning dish.” The breakfast taco is beloved in Austin, certainly, but so are all sorts of morning dishes—pancakes! doughnuts! fresh fruit and granola!—that it would be downright weird to claim as “the city’s.” People eat breakfast tacos in Austin, but that doesn’t mean that Austin owns them.
The pushback against Sedacca’s story has been swift. Within hours after it was published, hundreds of cranky San Antonians took to Change.org to demand justice in the form of “the City of Austin throw[ing] Matthew Sedacca out of an unmarked van well outside the boundaries of the state.” The petition also lays out “equally suitable amends” such as “mandatory re-education” in San Antonio; banning Sedacca from publishing on the “topics of Texas heritage and social realities” until he’s spent ten years living in the state; or the establishment of a citywide “San Antonio Day” that celebrates the culture of Austin’s neighbor to the south.
All of these demands, obviously, are tongue-in-cheek, but there’s some real fire behind the petition, which finds it offensive (and reasonably so) that Austinites so proudly attempt to take ownership of concepts as elemental as wrapping eggs and potatoes in a tortilla and eating it. This isn’t ultimately about Sedacca, who is just the latest to wade into long-contested territory involving tacos, Texas, and cultural imperialism, but it’s a convenient time to explore the issues at hand. We’ll excerpt at some length from the petition, written by a San Antonio resident named Robbie Rogers, simply because it’s a rhetorical marvel:
More absurd is the notion that “breakfast taco culture” was either codified or normalized by a generation of birkenstock-clad tech-jockeys and university incubatees majoring in Phish and Social Safety Net Surfing, and not by the laborers who spent the last century waking up at 5 am, breaking their fast on huevos con papas outside a truck, to build the aforementioned demographic’s luxury condos.
Sedacca’s worst sin by far, however, is presuming to blunder into a long-running, deep-seated, and hot blooded Texas turf-war armed with the equivalent knowledge of a 30-minute Andrew Zimmern special. The documented (if half-hearted) research on the most basic of taco knowledge hints he’s about as out of his depth as someone needing to conduct field research on the colors of bluebonnets, and only insures his grasp of the subject as far as the authority of a third-grade book report.
Among sources cited with the rigor of freshman composition, we are told to accept that our standard of culture has been superseded by establishments with such tradition-steeped names as Tacodeli, and that the most trusted expert on Mexican Cuisine is a man named Robert Walsh, who sounds like someone who would just as assuredly inform us that barbeque was invented in Austin as well, and that Santa Anna was defeated off Congress and 17th.
Austin certainly is well equipped to claim ownership of things that didn’t originate in the city. It’s full of transplants whose first experiences with things like breakfast tacos and barbecue were in the city’s limits, and it does do those things very well. San Antonio, Corpus Christi, McAllen, and any number of points in between also do those things exceptionally well, of course, but people who’ve visited or moved to Austin from New York, California, or elsewhere don’t always find time to head south on Interstate 35 to experience breakfast tacos in cities that have been serving them for generations.
Furthermore, as a media hub, Austin helps create the narrative about Texas that is disseminated throughout the rest of the state (and the rest of the country), and those voices often don’t look south of Slaughter Lane for trends. It’s basically the same thing that New York media does to Texas all the time on a smaller scale. That’s how you end up with people claiming, even as they admit that the actual concept of the breakfast taco originated in South Texas, that the name “breakfast taco” is pure Austin inspiration. (“It’s a taco, and it’s for breakfast. Get our best minds working on a name stat!”)
These are useful conversations to have, even (or maybe especially) if they’re rooted in something as ultimately low-stakes as “who invented the breakfast taco.” And though folks who live in points south of Austin might seethe at the hubris of writers based in the state’s capital who spout off authoritatively on things they possess no authority over, they can also take some comfort in knowing that while those people are waiting in lines running out the door at Tacodeli, the true believers can drive through an El Pato or a Taco Palenque to get a taco that’s cheaper, faster, and better-tasting. In some ways, that has to feel like justice.