The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor
The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor Mark Schatzker Non-Fiction Simon & Schuster May 5, 2015 Paperback 272
A lively and important argument from an award-winning journalist proving that the key to reversing America's health crisis lies in the overlooked link between nutrition and flavor.
In The Dorito Effect, Mark Schatzker shows us how our approach to the nation's number one public health crisis has gotten it wrong. The epidemics of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are not tied to the overabundance of fat or carbs or any other specific nutrient. Instead, we have been led astray by the growing divide between flavor - the tastes we crave - and the underlying nutrition.
Since the late 1940s, we have been slowly leeching flavor out of the food we grow. Those perfectly round, red tomatoes that grace our supermarket aisles today are mostly water, and the big breasted chickens on our dinner plates grow three times faster than they used to, leaving them dry and tasteless. Simultaneously, we have taken great leaps forward in technology, allowing us to produce in the lab the very flavors that are being lost on the farm. Thanks to this largely invisible epidemic, seemingly healthy food is becoming more like junk food: highly craveable but nutritionally empty. We have unknowingly interfered with an ancient chemical language - flavor - that evolved to guide our nutrition, not destroy it.
With in-depth historical and scientific research, The Dorito Effect casts the food crisis in a fascinating new light, weaving an enthralling tale of how we got to this point and where we are headed. We've been telling ourselves that our addiction to flavor is the problem, but it is actually the solution. We are on the cusp of a new revolution in agriculture that will allow us to eat healthier and live longer by enjoying flavor the way nature intended.
The Dorito Effect came into my possession thanks to a Goodreads giveaway. Normally non-fiction is not a genre I would actively pursue; many readers who pursue the hobby in order to be exposed to stories have little interest in non-fiction. But with several family members actively trying to lose weight, something I too have done in the past, I entered the giveaway. Lo and behold, the book wound up in my lap and I happily read it.
Food is one of the most ancient topics you can talk about. Since life began to develop, food has been its primary driving force. The Dorito Effect does not go anywhere near that far back in history but instead focuses on the modern aspects of taste that have drastically changed in the last few decades due to mankind’s relatively new ability to manipulate flavor. Author Mark Schatzker’s starting statement is more or less this: people enjoy pleasure, flavor provides pleasure, people want the best flavors they can get. That is a gross simplification of this book, but it does begin to explain Schatzker’s points.
First off, Schatzker did an enormous amount of research for this book. The bibliography is reminiscent of what you would find in the appendix of an academic research paper but The Dorito Effect is by no means a technical, bland read. The book is as exciting as the flavors it describes to us. It begins as more of a history book than anything else, delving into how we got from farmers raising plants and animals over 100 years ago to going into a supermarket and purchasing nothing but items that have been artificially produced (chips, cookies, etc.) This part roughly the first 1/3 of The Dorito Effect and it is interesting to see how changing industry trends and goals have led to modern food.
In the second part of the book, Schatzker talks less about how food began to be produced faster and larger and begins his introduction of artificial flavors. He states some obvious examples, like how vegetables have gotten bigger but lost flavor over time while we have supplemented those losses via artificial flavoring. Schatzker cites multiple studies that demonstrate how flavor is used, by both people and animals, to determine what nutrients our bodies need and how artificial flavoring is tricking us into thinking we are eating healthier than we are. The Dorito Effect also discusses “empty calorie” types of foods, like how you can feel just as full after a salad as you would from half a bag of snacky junk food.
Up until this point, the book was very impressive. It laid out what we, as a culture, are doing wrong and how we got to that point. The final part of the book discusses how you can eat healthy by purchasing the right foods and balancing a diet that is as tasty as it is nutritionally fulfilling. A large portion of this advice works well for dedicated foodies but not so much for the average person, something Schatzker even admits in the book. Eating well is obviously a great idea, but producing food of that quality for the world’s population levels is just not viable. Nor is it an option for everyone to go to the farmer’s market and purchase healthier, unprocessed (or at least less processed) foods because many people do not have the budget for that.
Overall, The Dorito Effect is a good book that everyone can read. You may not find that every single part of the book applies or even appeals to you but there is some information in there for everyone. And while The Dorito Effect is a good book, it is by no means a complete source of information. Given the complex history and even just the current state of the food industry, it is doubtful that any one book could have sufficient information to truly cover the topic. That being said, The Dorito Effect is still a good starting point.
Editor's note: This review was written by Nicholas Watkins, originally published in Literature is Life, and has been reposted with permission. It is available under Creative Commons and the original page can be found here.