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  • 28 April 2016 at 2:45 pm

    The Dorito Effect is an engaging book put forward to convince us that the key to solving the world’s health crisis lies in the neglected relation between nutrition and flavour. As Schatsker, the author of the book puts it, we have “interfered with a highly sophisticated chemical language that evolved to guide our nutrition”. The book focuses on how advancements in agricultural technology and food science have made seemingly healthy food become more and more like junk food, therefore tricking our brains into loving nutritionally void food and causing us to overeat. This book will interest those seeking to lead a healthier lifestyle as well as others who value food sustainability. With comprehensive historical and scientific evidence, The Dorito Effect has successfully explained the food crisis from a new perspective, taking us on a fascinating journey of how we got to this point and where we should now head for. However, the book omits other probable explanations of why we overeat.

    In an effort to increase production yield, disease resistance and the appearance of food, mankind has dedicated years of plant and animal breeding to achieve the results that we have today. We have been extremely successful in developing effective pesticides, antibiotics and chemical growth enhancers, which increase crop yield and make formerly luxury food like meats affordable to most. However, these modern methods of production have led to a major depletion of nutritional values in food and to flavour dilution. Several new studies, carried out by the various biochemists and psychologists mentioned in the book, have revealed that our bodies innately delight in certain flavours. Major flavour and fragrance companies have exploited scientific advancements such as gas chromatography to separate and identify different chemical compounds. This has allowed them to synthetically engineer flavourings to mask the blandness in our food today. Interestingly, Schatsker does not propose returning to ancient agricultural ways but suggested improving modern artificial selection processes.

    The book has nine chapters in total. It starts off with the history of mass production of food and the search for flavours, explaining how we managed to extract essential molecules to create the perfect aroma in flavourings. Schatsker mentions that the big food industries have “created the snack equivalent of crystal meth and gotten us all hooked”, reminding us how addictive artificial flavourings can be. The middle section continues by explaining the nutritional wisdom that is innate to us and why we should not ignore it. Fooling ourselves into eating nutritionally void food results in us binging in an attempt to consume nutrients, leading to epidemics of obesity. Last but not least, the book enlightens us with a “delicious” cure, which could be the future of modern farming.

    Using chickens an example, Schatsker has done a remarkable job of investigating how the changes to our food first began. Chickens today do not taste anything like the chickens of the past. Their taste descended into blandness about 60 years ago. Farmers started to raise chicks in identical pens and fed them a calculated, standard diet consisting of protein, fat and fibre. The growing chicks were kept indoors to minimise feeding and conserve their energy. By 1973, chickens only needed 60 days before becoming full adult size. Today, chickens manage to weigh 0.7kg more, while eating a third less feed and taking only 35 days to do so. According to a paper in the journal Poultry Science, if humans grew as fast as these chickens, “a 3kg newborn baby would weigh 300kg after 2 months”. Since these chickens consume such a small variety of food and are essentially “big babies”, their meat tastes bland. We then try to compensate for the taste by adding artificial sauces and dressings.

    The middle section of the book dives into explaining the wisdom of flavour that animals have. This theory is supported by various experiments and studies carried out on animals and plants. For example, European songbirds prefer food with chemical compounds called flavonoids, which actually boost their immune system, and when tiger moth caterpillars were infected by parasites, they developed a preference for plants containing alkaloids, which are toxic to those parasites.

    In the last few chapters, the book discusses the ways that modern artificial-selection processes could be improved. Personally, I had hoped that the book would touch on other probable explanations for the obesity crisis. Some possible reasons for the rise of obesity as a collective society today may be due to changes in lifestyle and/or trends. Sedentary office work and decreasing average sleep hours could also perhaps contribute to an increase in weight and obesity. However, Schatsker omits discussion of any sociological arguments.

    Nevertheless, Schatzker has written The Dorito Effect very lucidly. The book is filled with plenty of compelling scientific evidence to support the argument. Unlike much of today’s mass produced, genetically-modified food, which usually leaves us feeling unsatisfied, The Dorito Effect is easily digested and palatable.

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