It’s no illusion. Food has become blander and flavors have rescued them, with big consequences, including obesity and diseases. Journalist Mark Schatzker gives us a taste of it all in The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor. He tells us what is wrong and ends with a search for very real food with real flavor.
Schatzker’s book comes to life through some very creative nonfiction writing. He tells about a list of people who moved the flavor problem along and/or tried to improve it. He holds the reader’s interest to help him/her continue to read to the end, when a scientific paper about the same topic might have been left unread. The research is there, sometimes through the voices of the people who did it. I ate it up.
The Dorito Effect is his name for bland food with zest added. He says, “The Dorito Effect, very simply, is what happens when food gets blander and flavor technology gets better.” He tells us about chicken and vegetables being carefully bred since the 1960s for money-making qualities like yield and faster and bigger growth. That produced what he calls the “dilution effect,” which is loss of flavor and nutrients. He also credits intensive farming methods and fertilization.
Doritoes, Schatzker says, arrived when a scientist showed how a bland tortilla chip could be made very tasty with added flavor to suggest a taco. He then shows how other foods that have become bland have been given the same treatment of seasonings and gives credit to McCormick herbs and spices. He tells about chickens and tomatoes. Chickens now are larger than they were in the 1950s and taste like teddy bear stuffing. Tomatoes are like cardboard. These images appear throughout the book.
The human brain gets fooled. Food addiction comes from neurotransmitters in the brain when many people eat food with some added flavorings, he says. “We’re done for. The rise in obesity is the predictable result of the rise in manufactured deliciousness. And no matter how hard we try, we can’t make our outsized desires go away.” Nothing will change until we think differently about food and see that real flavor, produced authentically in nature, is our only road to salvation. Don’t extinguish pleasure; get rid of manufactured flavors in favor of real food. And finding real food means re-engineering the bland foods to bring back the flavor. The solution to cardboard tomatoes is focusing on flavor more than yield. He is not talking about GMO.
At the end of the book we find Schatzker spending much time and effort in a worldwide search for anyone who has tried to produce flavorful food, in an effort to present one wonderful meal. The major players come and it is done.
Finally, he gives us an appendix, which he calls “How to Live Long and Eat Flavorfully.” This should not be overlooked. The list includes: Eat Real Flavor; Eat Like a Utah Goat; Flavor Starts in the Womb; Eat for Flavor; Eat Meat from Pastured Animals; Avoid Synthetic Flavor Technology; Avoid Restaurants That Use Synthetic Flavorings; Organic May or May Not Save You; Eat Herbs and Spices; Don’t Pop Vitamin Pills; Eat Dark Chocolate and Drink Wine; Give a Child an Amazing Piece of Fruit; It will Get Better. The author concludes, “There is only one way Child an Amazing Piece of Fruit; It will Get Better. The author concludes, “There is only one way the overall quality of food we eat will get better: if people demand it. The quality movement has revolutionized the wine and beer North Americans drink. Now let’s make it happen with food.”
Now I am reading food labels more attentively to see what I am eating. As one other food writer has said, don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients on the label. And I suggest that sometimes if the label includes a list of names of flavorings, don’t eat it unless you know what underlies the words.
The book is available at Amazon.com and many public libraries.