The Dorito Effect:
The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor
By Mark Schatzker
Simon and Schuster, 2016
272 pages, hardcover, $26.99
Reviewed by NANCY
In The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor, Mark Schatzker shares the disturbing truths he discovered while investigating what has happened to our food.
We’ve been fed the idea that we need to diet to lose weight. We know calories consumed should not exceed calories expended. However, the explanation for our population’s growing weight is much more complex than this simple equation. Willpower dissolves when eliminating some foods and exercising control puts us in competition with our body’s needs. Schatzker is a passionate foodie and a funny guy who makes the science of nutrition interesting.
Have you ever wondered why you can’t stop eating even when you know you’re full? Or why you walk away from a meal feeling bloated, exhausted and in a mental fog? This negative post-ingestive feedback is the result of eating too many empty calories. Our body’s nutritional wisdom associates strong flavour with higher nutritional value. With the introduction of flavour solutions, the food industry found a way to trick the brain into believing processed food is delivering what we need to survive.
The food industry employs experts in advanced organic, analytic and synthetic chemistry, engineering neuroscience, psychology, psychophysics, ethnography, demography, molecular biology, botany and physiology, all with the task of finding out how to make things taste really good. They have perfected the art of triggering consumption with the promise of nutrition. Our bodies are not our allies when pitted against industrial science.
Schatzker talked to food industry insiders, food producers, scientists and chefs, and read extensive research reports. He explored the history of the food industry and the impact of economics and politics. What he discovered is that two things have been happening. While they were increasing the yield in the field, producers were creating a product with fewer nutrients. Animals were being bred and fed to grow faster and bigger, with blandness being the result. To the body, intense flavour correlates with good nutrition. Simultaneously, the food industry perfected flavour solutions that enhanced junk food, making it irresistible and addictive.
The Dorito Effect “is what happens when food gets blander and flavor technology gets better.” As flavour disappeared, nutritional density decreased. The food industry responded by adding flavour solutions to everything from blueberries to broccoli. Cooks added herbs and spices. Real food was being dressed-up more and more. Like a Dorito, it tasted good but didn’t pack the nutritious punch it once did.
Animals have innate nutritional wisdom. They instinctively know what is good for them. Once they are full, they stop eating. Food producers started adding palatants to their food. These specific flavours made the animals feel so good they ate more. This facilitated faster growth resulting in bigger animals going to market. When added to human food, palatants have the same effect.
The psychology of why we eat is closely linked to the biology and chemistry. We are actually wired to eat what we enjoy. We crave flavours we associate with nutrition but we also crave what makes us feel good. Eating can be a mood booster. Even the thought or sight of food that has caused us pleasure can trigger a strong craving. The joy we get from eating can be so addictive that if we cut a craved food out of our diet, we will suffer withdrawal symptoms. “By manipulating our richest and most direct source of pleasure, we have warped our relationship with the fuel our bodies require, food.” Contrary to what would be expected from giving ourselves more of what we crave, research has shown that “food-addicted brains are not happy brains.”
We like calories because we need them to survive. We prefer strong flavours because the more flavourful the food is, the more nutritious and full of plant secondary compounds (even meat) our brains perceive it to be. With flavour solutions, a chemical will fool the tongue and the nose, but it can’t fool the body. The body signals the brain that it is starved for nutrients. A craving occurs for food with the flavour associated with that nutrient. Thanks to the Dorito Effect, we may not be making healthy choices.
I loved the information on toxicity and the explanation of how, in nature, the plants we eat decide when we will stop eating. Lettuce emits a chemical scream when picked and the flavour of that scream delights the eater. At some point, that abuse gets excessive. The body gets a signal to stop eating. In comparison, a fast food meal doesn’t kick up a chemical fuss.
Schatzker explains why the Mediterranean diet works and why artificial sweeteners and diet foods don’t. Sadly, vegetables won’t save you. There’s more water and carbohydrates in our vegetables now. Chicken, which used to be a healthy meat option, is now fatter with a radical imbalance between omega 3s and 6s. Livestock are no longer eating a balanced diet. They grow faster but they are less delicious and nutritious.
A mere 33 percent of the population are not able to be manipulated by the food industry. Evidently, I’m not one of those people. Dealing with the stress of getting this review written, I’m eating tortilla chips. At least I know why I’m doing it. They calm me and make me feel good. For folks like me, there is a skinny little chapter at the back of the book that explains what to do to combat the Dorito Effect. A preference for junk food begins in the womb and I can’t do anything about what my mother ate before I entered the world, but I can work towards eating like a Utah goat. And I will be reading labels more and cross-checking ingredients against Schatzker’s list of chemical tricksters hidden in processed food.
Asthma, cancer, heart disease and diabetes are some of the side effects of being overweight. Yet, even with a trillion dollar weight loss industry, 69 percent of Americans are overweight, obese or extremely obese. Obesity is second only to smoking as the leading cause of preventable deaths.
With natural food, the human body’s chemistry determines when to stop eating. With processed food, the proper cues are missing. Nutrients have been highjacked and replaced with fake flavour.
If you think the food you eat is making you gain weight, you’re right. If you find food irresistible, you’re right. “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.” Unfortunately, there are extreme consequences to this. The consumer is paying the price.
Nancy, Night Sky Woman, has been doing psychic card readings professionally for over 15 years. She is also an astrologer and has studied a variety of spiritualities and philosophies. She has been writing Taroscopes for over five years and teaches the tarot through lifelong learning. She reads out of the Bella Vista Restaurant and at the Winnipeg Makers & Market events. To book an appointment or for information about classes, you can reach Nancy at 204-775-8368 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.