Natural food has been diluted over time. Chickens taste less chickeny, tomatoes less tomatoey. Packaged food has become more flavorful, with the ability to create flavors now well-advanced. The result? We end up preferring the wrong kind of food.
The inside flap of the book attracted me. Why does the red tomato taste like tap water? Why does the chicken require tons of seasoning to taste good? Yes, good question. These seem like real-life questions to me.
Schatzker gives a recent history of food, where food, whether plant or animal, has been bred for quantity and disease resistance. But along the way, no one decided to care about flavor. Thus, we have cheap, bland, good-looking food in our stores most of the time.
But in nature, flavor follows nutrition. And our human bodies, like those of observed animals around us, use these flavor cues to find nutrients. We find what we need. We have natural nutritional wisdom. But, when flavor is backed by nothing but cheap calories, our bodies get confused.
Then it's no wonder that so many more Americans are now considered obese (35% today vs 15% in 1960). In 1960, over 50% of Americans were considered "slender"; Today the figure is less than 30%. That means two thirds of the population is over weight. That's incredible and corresponds to the time that all of this man-made flavor management got started. The book's namesake, the Dorito, was first invented with a taco seasoning, reminding one of an entire meal. But what it offered was much less. Instead, we now overeat on empty calories, hoping to be satisfied, but feeling like we can eat the whole bag. Adult-onset diabetes has now changed its name to type 2 diabetes because so many children now have their metabolism messed up.
Flavor meddling got us here, and man-made flavor intervention may well get us out of it. New breeds of animals and plants are being bred for flavor and nutrition. And the great news is that yield and disease resistance can largely continue as well. Flavor just has to be remembered.
The challenge that seems to remain is cost. Supply and demand still favor flavlorless food. Agricultural space still favors high-yield, watered down produce. Growers and wholesalers still believe that consumers only want what will cost 99c a pound.
So, what can we do? I appreciated his suggestions at the end of the book:
Eat real flavor - Ask where the flavor came from. If it is from the plant or animal, eat on. If it was applied by a human, put it down.
Eat like a Utah goat - Eat lots of different things. Try stuff, things you might not eat normally, before being sure you don't like it or can't use it.
Flavor starts in the womb - The palate is a life-long investment. Kids inherit one from their mother, and depending on what she ate, they will be more or less picky. Care for what you like by what you eat.
Eat for flavor - Find the best-tasting food. If it's not flavorful, find something else. Get the most tomatoey, peachy, chickeny, carroty option available. Be willing to pay for it. It's going in your body. Think of all that money you'll save on ranch dressing and ketchup.
Eat meat from pastured animals - The more an animal eats, the better it'll taste.
Avoid synthetic flavor tech - Each time you consume man-made flavors, you're tricking your brain. The more you do it, the less you'll end up liking real food. Avoid nose-tricking chemicals: "natural flavor, natural flavoring, artificial flavor, flavoring, flavor" and tongue-tricking chemicals: "msg, stevia, aspartame, and lots of other weird-sounding ones".
Avoid restaruants that use synthetic flavorings - Eat at restaurants that aren't re-heating and making sauces with powders. Eat where dead plants and animals are used it.
Organic may or may not save you - The "organic" label might not mean much. It might just mean the chicken is a bland broiler breed that sat on grass while they at corn and soybeans. Instead, trust how well it tastes instead.
Eat herbs and spices - They're good for you, but don't use them to cover up bland food.
Consider the value of vitamin pills - There's no scientific evidence they improve health, and they may just allow bland, high-calorie diets.
Eat dark chocolate - Indulge in this "gateway food" to a healthier palate.
Give a child an amazing piece of fruit - Every adult wants to offer children sweets. It must be hard-wired. Instead, treat them to a great peach, blueberry, or apple. They will feel good, and you will feel good.
It will get better - Better food is on its way. As we as customers demand it, it will get here faster.