Mark Schatzker's The Dorito Effect: A food book worth reading.
20 August 2015
by Mark Schatzker
There are a lot of books being written these days about our food.
I've read a lot of them myself, but somewhere along the way I burned out on them. Partially this was because I worry about my family's diet, but not enough to do the massive amounts of work that are necessary to grow your own food, or even preserve or freeze it.* Partially this was also because I have the world's least sophisticated palate**, so telling me about how healthy food can also taste great is largely a waste of time.
But I must say that I found Mark Schatzker's investigative book The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth about Food and Flavor to be a new take on a very overdone subject. Schatzker examines food from the viewpoint of flavor--most importantly, how the majority of our food doesn't have any, because it has mainly been produced by a huge agricultural system that must sacrifice complex flavor in order to maximize hardiness and yield.
One thing I really appreciated here was Schatzker's lean journalistic writing and emphasis on scientific studies done on the relationships between flavors in foods and their nutritious compounds. Here's your sample of the book, in which the author describes one of the reasons modern chickens taste so bland:
"In the late 1940s, a new and important feed was unleashed upon poultrydom: the 'high-energy diet.' For chickens to grow twice as fast as their recent ancestors, they needed to mainline carbs.
There was. however, a tradeoff that no one thought much about in the 1940s, or today. What the high-energy diet gains in calories, it loses in flavor. The feed is typically a blend of seeds--corn, wheat, millet, soybeans, etc.--and while some seeds (nutmeg, for example) are flavorful, the seeds we feed chicken are not. And, unlike tomatoes, a chicken doesn't make its own flavor. The taste of animal flesh is strongly influenced by what an animal eats." (p. 35.)
It's an interesting read, and even includes an appendix with a few basic suggestions for starting to improve one's diet. Sigh. I should really follow some of those.
*If I seriously gardened or preserved food I'd have even less time to read! Not. Gonna. Happen.
**For nearly ten years after I graduated from college, I ate a S'mores Pop-Tart and coffee for every breakfast, home-made meatloaf for most at-home meals (hamburger is my true medium), and candy and ice cream in massive, massive quantities. Don't tell my mom, okay? The poor woman raised me on milk my father's dairy herd produced, beef and pork my family raised itself and an awe-inspiring amount of homegrown fruits and vegetables. She was kinder to me for my first eighteen years than I have been to myself since.