Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Dorito Effect / Mark Schatzker

4 out of 5 stars
In The Dorito Effect, Mark Schatzker shows us how our approach to the nation's number one public health crisis has gotten it wrong. The epidemics of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are not tied to the overabundance of fat or carbs or any other specific nutrient. Instead, we have been led astray by the growing divide between flavor - the tastes we crave - and the underlying nutrition.

Since the late 1940s, we have been slowly leeching flavor out of the food we grow. Those perfectly round, red tomatoes that grace our supermarket aisles today are mostly water, and the big breasted chickens on our dinner plates grow three times faster than they used to, leaving them dry and tasteless. Simultaneously, we have taken great leaps forward in technology, allowing us to produce in the lab the very flavors that are being lost on the farm. Thanks to this largely invisible epidemic, seemingly healthy food is becoming more like junk food: highly craveable but nutritionally empty. We have unknowingly interfered with an ancient chemical language - flavor - that evolved to guide our nutrition, not destroy it.

With in-depth historical and scientific research, The Dorito Effect casts the food crisis in a fascinating new light, weaving an enthralling tale of how we got to this point and where we are headed. We've been telling ourselves that our addiction to flavor is the problem, but it is actually the solution. We are on the cusp of a new revolution in agriculture that will allow us to eat healthier and live longer by enjoying flavor the way nature intended.

The author provides a three point summary of his book close to the end:

Humans are flavor seeking animals. The pleasure provided by food, which we experience as flavor, is so powerful that only the most strong-willed among us can resist it.

In nature, there is an intimate connection between flavor and nutrition.

Synthetic flavor technology not only breaks that connection, it also confounds it.

We’ve been so busy trying to squeeze more food out of fewer resources, that we lost sight of the fact that food should be flavourful and nutritious—think of tomatoes, carrots, and chicken purchased in the grocery store. All of them are pretty tasteless. The vegetables are woody and unpleasant. The chicken requires brining, marinating or saucing in order to render it edible.

A hundred years ago, a typical tomato plant was twelve feet tall and carried four or five ripe tomatoes at any one time, with a few green babies still weeks away….A tomato plant now tops out at six feet and carries as many as ten ripe tomatoes at once. That’s too many….It doesn’t have enough leaves to power all that fruit, so it undergoes the plant equivalent of a brown-out. Like a frantic parent, the plant fills its fruit with the only thing it can: water. And the tomatoes taste like what they’re filled with.
Animals and people eat what they need because it tastes good. Experiments done with sheep and goats reveal that plants taste better to the animals when they need the specific nutrients that the plants provide. I remember our farm days, when the first garden lettuce was a matter of celebration, inducting us into a summer of fresh produce after a winter of more limited menu.

Now, we have a whole industry that has learned to mimic the flavours of nutritious food. When we eat it, our systems are fooled into thinking that we are getting nutrition when all we are getting is calories. Since we need the vitamins and minerals, our bodies drive us to eat more of the same food in search of those necessities. (Have you ever found yourself obsessively eating cookies or Doritos or some other processed food, seemingly unable to stop? This is what’s going on!) We can’t reach satiation, because we haven’t met our requirements for vitamins, minerals and fibre.

The food problem is a flavor problem. For half a century, we’ve been making the stuff people should eat—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, unprocessed meats—incrementally less delicious. Meanwhile, we’ve been making the food people shouldn’t eat—chips, fast food, soft drinks, crackers—taste ever more exciting. The result is exactly what you would expect.
This has been a very motivating read—time to remove even more processed foods from my diet and search for fruits, vegetables, and meats that really taste like they’re supposed to, like those I remember eating while growing up on the farm.


  1. Hi Wanda

    Something to think about to be sure and it probably explains some of the popularity of the various spices through the ages. Certainly the farm garden was a real treat this summer.


    1. The author discusses the role of spices & herbs as well in one chapter. A really worthwhile book if you are interested in such things.