The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker is a gush-worthy book. It is. I loved, loved, loved, LOVED it. It is packed with information; it is fascinating--crammed full of 'I didn't-know-that-facts; it is compelling--a real page-turner! And it had me hooked from the very start.
In the early autumn of 1961, a thirty-seven-year-old housewife and mother named Jean Nidetch was pushing a shopping cart through a Long Island supermarket when she bumped into a woman she knew. "You look so marvelous," her friend said, and for a sweet moment Nidetch basked in the compliment. Unfortunately, her friend kept talking. "When are you due?" Nidetch was not pregnant. At the time, she stood five seven and weighed 214 pounds, which marked her, in today's parlance, as obese, although Nidetch didn't known what that word meant, or that the obese were, at that very moment, coalescing into a demographic ripple that was on its way to becoming a wave.
The Dorito Effect is in effect a book about many things:
- the history of food (manufactured, processed, taken-to-market food), or, the business of getting food on the supermarket shelves; in part it is focused on 'junk food' but only in part. Chicken is not junk food--necessarily--but he spends a lot of time talking about CHICKEN.
- the history of diets (the book opens with the founding of Weight Watchers by Jean Nidetch), or, let the numbers shock you--they speak for themselves really. Did you know that 69% of Americans are obese or overweight?
- the history of a society/culture obsessed with food
- the argument that food is without a doubt losing its flavor, an examination of WHY food is losing its flavor (Here is where he talks a lot about chickens, also, things like tomatoes and strawberries.) This is the section where he talks about farming and ranching--agriculture--how things have changed in the past seventy-five years or so. IN other words, what we've DONE to our food.
- the flavor-making business, how 'natural' and 'artificial' flavors have evolved in the past hundred years; how almost everything seems to have flavor added to it before it's placed on the shelves; what this manufactured flavor might be doing to our bodies and minds.
- The scientific process behind it all: nutrition, flavor, behavior, etc. In other words: why we crave what we crave, why we eat what we eat, why we behave the way we do, why we can both 'want' to be thin and to eat as much as we want. Why we are so quick to blame just 'one' thing for 'making' us fat.
- Why does food taste good in the first place?! (You'll learn all about plant secondary compounds!)
- Why are some people ADDICTED to food and others are not? Why are certain foods delicious but unsatisfying?
- His premise: THE LONGER WE IGNORE FLAVOR, THE LONGER WE ARE BOUND TO BE VICTIMS OF IT. (17) Or, THE FOOD PROBLEM IS A FLAVOR PROBLEM. (157)
- the search for the ultimate, best-tasting, natural food (chicken, tomatoes, etc.) a search for a solution to a big, big problem
- other factors that lead to obesity or may lead to obesity
- practical steps you can take to become thinner and healthier
- in other words, the book, is NOT a diet book; there is no weight loss or exercise plan
In the early '60s, well over half of Americans were "slender" and of the nonslender, the vast majority was classified as "overweight"--they needed to lose a few pounds. It is now abnormal to be slender. Today, less than a third of Americans are slender, which is another way of saying more than two-thirds are either overweight or obese. (7)
A thing, of course, is different from a flavor. Different things have their own different flavors. Oranges taste like oranges. Bananas taste like bananas. Tacos taste like tacos, and corn chips taste like corn chips. That, at least, is how the world worked back when there were still families who'd never heard of McDonald's. (13)
The Dorito didn't just predict the future of tortilla chips. It didn't just predict the future of snack food either. It predicted the future of all food. Nothing tastes like what it is anymore. Everything tastes like what we want it to taste like. As food gets blander, we crank out zestiness by the hundreds of tons to make up for it. Most people recognize this as junk food. But it's happening to food served at restaurants and the food people buy at the supermarket and cook, from scratch, at home. It's happening to blueberries, chicken breast, broccoli, and lettuce, even fennel. Everything is getting blander and simultaneously more seasoned. Everything is becoming like a Dorito. The birth of Doritos was a watershed moment. Flavor wasn't up to Mother Nature anymore. Now it was in the hands of the folks in marketing. (15)
Eating has as much to do with nutrients as sex does with procreation...We think in flavor, we dream about flavor, and we get up out of our chair when the bases are loaded in the bottom of the ninth to get it. We eat for one reason: because we love the way food tastes. Flavor is the original craving. (16)
The Dorito Effect, very simply, is what happens when food gets blander and flavor technology gets better. This book is about how and why that took place. It's also about the consequences, which include obesity and metabolic disturbance along with a cultural love-hate obsession with food. This book argues that we need to begin understanding food through the same lens by which it is experienced: how it tastes. (17)
We have taken a system designed to bring our bodies to a state of nutritional completion and turned it against us (17)
Food has changed. The change has been documented scientifically. And it is a story best told by chicken, which has become not only our number one source of animal protein but is simultaneously the blandest and most flavored--the most Dorito-like--meat. (20)
We eat gigantic babies. As a paper in the journal Poultry Science puts it, if humans grew as fast as broilers, "a 3 kg (6.6 lb) newborn baby would weigh 300 kg (660 lb) after 2 months." (26)
Modern food may be the most compelling lie humans have ever told. (40)
One after another, humans have captured the chemicals that characterize foods like apples, cherries, carrots, and beef and moved their production from plants and animals to factories. In 1965, there were less than 700 of these chemicals. Today, there are more than 2,200. (50)
Whether it says so on the label or not--and it usually does not--McCormick is in every aisle and on every shelf of the supermarket. (54)
The word "natural," in fact, has nothing to do with the end product. It simply refers to the process that gets you there. (59)
Eating is a behavior driven by an expectation of pleasure. And the mental vocabulary of those desires is not salt, sugar, or any other class of nutrients. We crave flavors. Flavors are what make food seem like food. (76)
The Dorito Effect was inevitable. It took ten thousand years, but we eventually nailed "taco." We finally figured out how to make ourselves wondrously fat. It was just a matter of technology. (81)
The rise in obesity is the predictable result of the rise in manufactured deliciousness. Everything we add to food just makes us want it more. And no matter how hard we try, we can't make our outsized desires go away. If anything, we're lucky, inexplicably so, that only 8.3 percent of women and 4.4 percent of men have a BMI consistent with total food addiction. But remember the children...The percentage of slender Americans will gradually work its way down to zero. (82)
Flavor is information. (94)
To a parasitic wasp, cis-3-hexenol means, "The caterpillar is over here," to a plant it means, "We are under attack," and to a human it is a crucial note in the label for "strawberry." (107)
Flavor factories churn out chemical desire. We spray, squirt, and inject hundreds of millions of pounds of those chemicals on food every year, and then we find ourselves surprised and alarmed that people keep eating. We have become so talented at soaking our food in fakeness that the leading cause of preventable death--smoking--bears a troubling resemblance to the second leading cause of preventable death--obesity.(127)
Flavor's effects do not end at the mouth and nose. They have only just began. There are taste receptors all through the digestive tract exactly like the ones in your mouth. Smell receptors are sensing down there. The digestive tract is not some blind extractor of nutrients. It has sensors the mouth and nose lack--fat sensors, protein sensors, bacteria sensors, hormone sensors, even plant-compound sensors. The gut is its own chemical-sensing gourmand, tasting each bite and adjusting its processes accordingly. You don't taste what your gut tastes, but it does affect your feelings. (150)
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews