There are some foodies/food critics out there that would never eat anything as blasphemous as a $1.39 Crunchy Taco Supreme from Taco Bell. 

"It's not authentic."

"It's disrespectful to eat Taco Bell when there's so many tacquerias around."

"I'm not trying to sit on the toilet for two hours!"

Some of these statements are valid, but allow me to change your thinking on chains like Taco Bell.

Taco Bell was one of the first Mexican cuisine experiences I could remember as a child. The reason why Taco Bell is so accepted in the US is because it's familiar; something as simple as cheese melted between two tortillas or meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato hugged by a tortilla is a relatively safe venture for picky American eaters.

Taco Bell is a culinary gateway drug.

On a Netflix Documentary called "Ugly Delicious," a chef referred to Taco Bell as a "gateway drug" that eases less experienced palates into more ethnic cuisines. I couldn't agree more, because that's exactly what Taco Bell did.

As a kid, I was more inclined to eat a taco at Qdoba or Chi-Chi's (R.I.P. Chi-Chi's). That liking turned into wanting to try fajitas at Chevy's, burrito bowls at Chipotle, enchiladas at a local authentic Mexican restaurant in town, and eventually eating a cactus in Cancún. 

As weird as it sounds, I think eating at Taco Bell played a part in making me an adventurous eater today. These culinary experiences overflowed into being more willing to try other ethnic cuisines. I don't think it's such a stretch to believe that these same experiences can play the same role for others. 

Jessica Mickelson

Other chains, not just Taco Bell, can enlarge your curiosity into authentic ethnic cuisine.

Similarly, Panda Express, Chipotle, Olive Garden, or local Chinese take-out restaurants and hibachi restaurants are equally as important in diversifying the unrefined palate. Even microwavable delicacies like instant ramen and frozen tacquitos seem to be some popular yet safe options focre people who claim to like ethnic foods, but haven't quite dipped their toes in it. As much as the New Jersey girl in me would scream, "OLIVE GARDEN ISN'T REAL ITALIAN FOOD!" it's equally as important as the presence of any other Americanized chain.

I admit that my experiences with Japanese food haven't ventured further than a hibachi restaurant or a sushi bar, and hibachi is more of Japanese American cuisine than authentic Japanese. Since I've enjoyed the entertaining experience and cuisine of hibachi dinners, I've wondered as to what authentic Japanese cuisine is like. Curiosity is the benefit of diversifying your palate by whatever means necessary, even if it means eating cup noodle for 4 years in college to become curious about real ramen.

Jamie Hwang

Don't stay in your comfort zone.

It's important to not stay in our American bubbles when it comes to worldly cuisine. Although I don't think I'm even close to being mentally ready to try authentic Chinese cuisine--an incredibly sophisticated and somewhat acquired taste that spans far beyond General Tsao's chicken--I'm willing to take steps. 

Food is the one thing in this world that can bring us all together. We all need to be sustained, and I'd like to think we'd all like to do so with delicious cuisine--a similarity shared throughout the globe. Learning about different cuisines can give us a better understanding about the flavors unique to different nations, and perhaps stepping into each other's kitchens to learn the stories behind the dishes.

I hope the next time you drive by a Taco Bell, you'd see it in a different light. Bottom line: encourage your picky friends that are on a strict chicken nugget and buttered pasta diet to try a chain like Taco Bell, at the very least.