If you ask someone why they want to eat something, the answer is usually because it tastes good. Whichever food fad you follow, however long you spend counting calorie after calorie, however much we like to pretend we’re seeking out nutrients, vitamins and essential oils- ultimately it’s a flavour high that we’re all after. We make our food choices because we love the way the food tastes.
It’s not often that a book concerning health and food encourages you to give in to your taste buds. But that’s exactly what Mark Schatzker’s illuminating new book, ‘The Dorito Effect- The Surprising New Truth about Food and Flavour’, wants you to do. Yes, you heard that right. Far from the usual telling-off you we’ve learned to expect in most discussions about nutrition, this book not only encourages you to indulge your pleasure seeking food behaviour, but argues that our health depends on it. Now that’s the kind of nutritional advice I can get on board with -although there is a catch.
This book delves deep into the relationship between flavour and food which, as it turns out, is a important part of the puzzle which has been sorely missing in our discussions around food. The main crux of Schatzker’s argument is that in nature, flavour appears alongside nutrition, i.e. flavour = nutritional quality. Far from being the cause of our food problems, our flavour fascination is actually nature’s way of helping us get the healthy nutrients and vitamins, or as Schatzker refers to them ‘plant secondary compounds’, we need to survive. He argues therefore that flavour hedonism actually holds the key to reversing our health crisis, but if only we can reconnect food and flavour. However, the problem is that the way we have been practising agriculture, specifically the way in which we have selected for certain traits (such as shelf life and transportability) means the flavour has been diluted out of our food and, along with it, all the things which makes it wholesome and healthy.
Schatzker’s second, concurrent line of argument is that whilst we have been steadily divorcing flavour from nutrition, we have simultaneously been creating ever-more convincing artificial flavours. So, in short, we have become very good at making bad food taste good and good food taste bad. Eating has therefore become more about tricking our taste buds than the nutritional experience that they were originally designed for. It is this that Schatzker calls ‘the Dorito effect’, i.e. the process of taking something with relatively little nutritional value (plain corn chips) and managing to convince ourselves that we are eating something else (tacos). This leads Schatzker to add his own definition of junk food; “food that tastes like something it is not”.
The idea that humans may possess an innate nutritional wisdom may sound a little far fetched to you, but Schatzker creates a compelling argument robustly backed up with sound science. Thoroughly researched and resolute, The Dorito Effect is a light and humorous read which steers you gently through the science of flavour research. By combining many perspectives from the agricultural and flavour world, it offers a refreshing and fascinating read.
This carries huge implications for the role of agriculture in producing and selecting for flavoursome, nutrient rich food. This applies not just to breeding and seed selection but also the actual techniques used which drowns out flavour (and therefore nutrition) from our food, such as over application of fertiliser and building of soil quality. Clearly this highlights the imperative of developing agricultural systems that are able to genuinely feed the world high quality nourishment. Although this is touched upon by Schatzker in his book, the main focus is given to proving the link between flavour and nutritional value. His work could therefore make an interesting platform to expand upon research between agricultural techniques and flavour.
Clearly, flavour is a big cause for corn-cern and I enjoyed this book so much I just had to taco-’bout it. Hopefully you enjoyed reading about it too!