Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Science Behind Our Relationship with Food

by Rachel Herz

Pub Date: Dec. 26th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-393-24331-4
Publisher: Norton

Neuroscientist Herz (That’s Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion, 2013, etc.) shines her expertise on the complicated relationships between the human senses and food consumption.

Although this is not a diet book, almost every page contains science-based information that could help readers with weight issues gain overall health. Herz understands that eating involves far more than the tongue, the mouth cavity, the teeth, the throat, and the stomach. In mostly lucid scientific detail, she explains how smell, sight, touch, and hearing interact with taste to affect food consumption. The realm of taste is the author’s primary focus, as she distinguishes among the “fab four”—sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Within each, she draws further distinctions, so that “sweet,” for example, involves sweet love, sweet pain, and sweet happiness. One of Herz’s major strengths is her skill at creating catchy phrasing to convey complicated scientific theories and experiments. She explains why comfort food has justifiably gained that reputation, why some eaters become easily satiated while others say they rarely feel full, and why certain edibles appear scrumptious to the eyes and others look unappetizing. Within each chapter, Herz folds in tips—sometimes based on peer-reviewed research, other times based on her gut feelings—that could qualify as self-help. These include advice on consuming food alone or with others present, how the size and shape of plates can influence calories ingested, playing imagination games before meals to reduce cravings, why the presence or absence of music during meals matters, and how wine consumption with solid food makes sense for some diners but not for others. Regardless of the tips offered or the science discussed, an obvious common denominator is the primacy of the human brain in all food-related matters.

Though occasionally didactic, the narrative is undergirded by Herz’s understanding that one size never fits all, and it contains useful passages for every reader.