What is it about teeny tiny foods that makes them so damn appealing?

Illustration for article titled What is it about teeny tiny foods that makes them so damn appealing?
Image: Bill Boch (Getty Images)

I like to pretend I’m good at avoiding ads on social media. I’m the person who tells my friends to stop buying products they find from Instagram ads (oVertone “conditioner” always comes out weird and patchy, y’all, and it’s the same concept as Arctic Fox or Good Dye Young!). I’m the person who blocks every account that pays to advertise on every social media site.

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But the Jack In The Box Twitter ads for Tiny Tacos . . . they haunted me.

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I’m a sucker for normal-sized Jack In The Box tacos. They’re part of my family identity, the fast food item everyone in my otherwise picky family can agree absolutely rule. So when I saw these ads sometime in June—though the ads, and the Tiny Tacos, have existed for much longer—I was initially intrigued, but guarded. Did I want them very badly? Yes. Did I also want to convince myself that if I didn’t eat the Tiny Tacos, Twitter’s ad algorithm still hadn’t won? Yes.

Small victories are something I’ve tried to hold onto the past few months, and if I gave in to this Twitter ad, I felt like I’d lose some part of my integrity. I felt like admitting to myself that I really did want those lil’ suckers meant admitting that a marketing scheme had definitively worked on me, and I hated that.

But then quarantine went on. And then I had a very positive, but very emotional medical procedure. And then 2020 kept being 2020. In short: I was sad. And all I wanted was an order of those Tiny Tacos. I don’t know if I saw the ad more than the algorithm typically allows for, or if I simply laser-focused on the ad each time it came up due to my desire. I wanted to hold these little tacos in my little hands, which would consequently look giant. I wanted to handle these itty bitty tacos like a tiny serving of meaty tortilla chips. I wanted to stop having a big strong galaxy brain and just let the ad work on my exhausted goo brain.

I let go. I treated myself to an order of Tiny Tacos. And they were wonderful.

Our complete Jack In The Box order, with the Tiny Taco spooning the regular taco for scale.
Our complete Jack In The Box order, with the Tiny Taco spooning the regular taco for scale.
Photo: Wil Williams
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For the full experience, my husband and I got an order of regular Tiny Tacos, an order of Loaded Tiny Tacos, and two normal tacos. As soon as I opened the box of regular Tiny Tacos, I started laughing like I hadn’t in weeks. They were just so tiny, and so stupid, and I loved them. Were they delicious? Not necessarily. With just the meat inside, they were fairly one-note and a little dry. But they were tiny as promised, and the fact of them made me very happy.

Taste-wise, I was expecting the Loaded Tiny Tacos to be the runaway winner. With cheese, lettuce, and taco sauce, their flavor should have replicated the full-sized tacos better than the meat-only regular Tiny Tacos. As soon as I opened the box for the Loaded Tiny Tacos, though, they disappointed me. Why? Because the loadedness obscured the smallness, and the smallness is what brought me joy. They required the use of a utensil; I wound up using a fork, but I did experiment with picking up a Loaded Tiny Taco with chopsticks. Have you ever picked up a very small taco with chopsticks? It is hilarious. Ultimately, though, it’s less fun than pinching a mini taco between your thumb and forefinger like the weensiest hors d’oeuvre.

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So tiny!
So tiny!
Photo: Wil Williams

The act of dipping the tiny tacos into the “creamy avocado lime” dipping sauce was similarly hilarious; however, the flavor did not make me happy. I recommend using Secret Aardvark, which basically tastes like fast food hot sauce made by cool big kids instead.

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Of course, I’m not the only person to obsess over small food during this bad nightmare year. Before I started seeing the ads for tiny tacos on Twitter, I’d seen the countless videos of tiny pancakes on TikTok. And years ago, I got caught up in the craze of Popin Cookin videos on YouTube, in which the creator makes tiny food from an educational Japanese toy series.

So what’s the deal with tiny food making us happy? As discussed by Wanda Thibodeaux for Inc., tiny things help us feel in control. And in 2020, a little simulated control can go a long way.

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My kitchen has been the foremost complication of control in my house. I love to cook, but the cleaning is exhausting. Thinking of what to cook makes me think of having to go to the grocery store, which, here in Arizona, is something I want to do as little as possible. Delivered groceries incur more fees, and oftentimes, key ingredients are left out. My kitchen is where I should have control, but I never really feel like I do.

For me, the tacos weren’t just cute. They were a food I didn’t have to prepare and didn’t have to clean up. They didn’t contribute to the dishes, and I didn’t have to worry about braving a grocery store. They didn’t even have to be delicious. They just had to be small, and small they were.

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So the next time an idea sticks in your soul and your brain says no but your heart says yes, let yourself give it a try. Put highlighter on your knuckles instead of just your face. Sit on the couch completely upside down. Or do both of those things and also pick up the most gimmicky food you can find. It might not be the best meal you’ve ever had, but it likely will be very silly, and if it’s small, it might give you that feeling of control you desperately need. Indulge in something just to indulge, and let yourself have a small moment of joy without judging yourself.

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DISCUSSION

winglessvictory
WinglessVictory

I dunno. But I just bought a dozen tiny quail eggs because they were on sale and were prettily speckled and my husband made fun of me. Now I seriously don’t know what I’m going to do with them. I’m tempted to just deliver them to the house down the street with the two little girls who play in their driveway wearing costumes - Barbie Eggs! Then I’d have to admit I bought the little eggs for no purpose other than their cuteness. You can see my dilemma.