Canadian food writer Schatzker (Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef, 2010) shows how the manipulation of food has led to our taste buds developing a “warped” relationship “with the fuel our bodies require, food.”
A watershed moment in food production came in the late 1960s, when Frito-Lay launched a product made from salted tortilla chips, Doritos. Consumers weren’t buying it until an enterprising executive had the idea to infuse a “fried triangle of corn” with taco flavor and turned to the burgeoning flavor industry to create it. The event was emblematic of a bigger trend in growing and processing food that emphasized higher yields over flavor. Manufacturers began to use genetic engineering of plants and animals for high yields, fertilizers and other soil amendments, and animals raised in pens with no exercise so they would grow bigger faster. Today’s beautiful plump chickens need, as Julia Child suggested, a “strong dousing of herbs, wines, and spices to make it at all palatable.” In this comprehensive examination of the integral relationship among food, flavor, and nutrition, Schatzker uses tomatoes and chickens as prime examples of the diluting of natural flavors in food since the 1950s. With entertaining storytelling and a light touch, he pulls readers into a number of fascinating, although sometimes hard to follow, scientific threads. But it’s worth hanging in there. The author parses the complexity of flavor, diving into biochemistry, molecular biology, nutrition, psychology, and neuroscience, which shows how our brains light up when we taste sugar and salt. Schatzker discusses how flavors are created from chemical compounds and imposed on ingredients, influencing our tastes. He remains optimistic that a food system based on real flavors rather than those imparted by laboratories is possible. He adds his voice to the call for more nutritious, flavorful food in its natural state.
After reading this engaging book, readers may wonder with every bite of food if what they are tasting is real.