Book Review: The Dorito Effect

The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and FlavorThe Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We want to boil things down. Heuristic categorization puts our brains at their happiest. Reductionist classification is neat, concise, and rewarding, and it makes sense that we would take the same approach to nutrition. Unfortunately, it just don’t work.

We are big stupid animals, and like all other animals, our bodies are programmed to seek out the nutrients they need. Reindeer are herbivores, but they’ll sometimes bust into bird nests and eat their eggs. They spit out everything but the shells, because they’re after the minerals.

We do the same thing. Anecdotally, I knew that after deadlift day, I was required to get borger, but I didn’t ascribe any evolutionary significance to that. The amino acid profile is ideal and all, but I’m as much a victim of social conditioning as the next American, and we’ve all seen Bronan the Insanian gnawing a haunch of roasted beef after a long day of indiscriminate power fantasy murder.

Turns out though, it’s not just me. There’s this quirky little practice known as geophagy which is exactly what it sounds like, cropping up most often in the tropics, among pregnant women. They start eating dirt and clay. That kind of climate and food monoculture can prompt mineral deficiencies that, while ignorable in adults, can prove fatal to the fetal. Quickest way to replenish these minerals is straight from the source, which I’m told “don’t hurt”.

Thing is, this isn’t a coherent thought. These women aren’t thinking, “Well, my magnesium is a little low today. Better house a handful of sand.” It’s not a fitbit situation. They’re just suddenly hungry for dirt.

Once upon a time, hunger communicated our body’s nutritional requirements to us. When our muscles were depleted, we would get a hankering for fats and proteins. When our blood sugar dropped, we would want fruit, to get it back to level.

We form positive associations to the most nourishing foods, to encourage us to seek them out again in the future. It’s a great strategy for long-term health maintenance. The thing is, these days, most food isn’t. It’s a chemical culture, and the Western diet consists largely of perfumes and grain.

But we’re still running the paleolithic hardware, and the neosimian meat husk hasn’t caught up with the artificial flavoring industry yet. Why would anyone drink soda? Soda is terrible. It’s a slow-acting poisonous grass distillate in a suspension of nutritionally vacant corn, because that’s the only way to pour that much sugar into the bottle and keep it liquid.

But soda, to the stupid animal within, is a sweet, light, colorful beverage. Like juice! And juice is just the best part of fruit! Fruit is made of vitamins and fiber, which the hardware unconsciously knows we need.

Thing is, our biological imperative doesn’t say “dam i could use some vitamins and fiber rn”. All we have is the idiot monkey mind screeching “ORANGE SODA NOW!!!!!! BLZ”

Meanwhile, there’s this concurrent pincer manuever coming out from the food production industries because on one hand, the persistent haze of synthetic, perfumed food scrambles our bodies perception of what it actually wants, so a craving for meaty tacos can be conflated with Taco Fiesta bugles, and simultaneously the meat industries are increasingly breeding these fat, placid, neotonic animals.

On a sociological level we are definitely what we eat. Just look around a Wal-Mart.

Young animals are less flavorful. We’re not sure why, but the tissues just don’t have flavor, and when you genetically engineer animals to resemble younger versions of themselves, usually to grow the assembly line and get them to market faster, you wind up with flavorless meat. As a result, we need to blast chicken with spices to make it taste like food. Fifty years ago, you could just heat chicken up and it’s a meal.

Not only is flavorless food a joyless experience, it further confounds our ability to draw the association between what our body needs and what our stupid monkey brain (our flavor cravings) actually want.

So we wind up functionally addicted to non-food, chasing a high we’ll never actually attain because a Whopper and high fructose corn syrup is different from a steak and a few oranges, but neither our dated evolutionary programming or the painstakingly calibrated artifice injected into our “food” will allow us to recognize that we’re starving ourselves by getting too fat.

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