- PublicDomainPictures from Pixababy, Lex Nelson
While the book starts off with discussion of the obesity epidemic that anyone interested in food writing has likely read about a dozen times before, it veers into more interesting territory from there, arguing that the reason people are eating more these days is because we've divorced flavor in food from the healthfulness it's supposed to indicate. Basically, by breeding for yield in everything from chickens to tomatoes, mass agriculture has diluted both the nutrient and flavor content of our meat and produce. From there, we replaced that natural flavor with the kind technologists can create in a test tube, effectively Doritrio-izing whole foods like lettuce and chicken and making them bad for us. Worse, because these are flavors that used to indicate health benefits but are now just illusions, our bodies tell us to keep eating in a vain search for nutrients even when we're full (a good example is bingeing on a plate of "blueberry" pancakes that contain no real blueberries).
This quote made me pause: "So much of the food we eat is not only a lie, it's a very good lie. Modern food may be the most compelling lie humans have ever told."
Luckily, the end of the book does offer some potential (if imperfect) solutions to this problem beyond just "have everyone eat real blueberries"—something a lot of Americans can't afford.
The Dorito Effect is by no means a comprehensive guide to the sad state of the American food system: Schatzker uses flavor as his singular lens, more or less dismissing other causes of obesity, and doesn't take on the failings and misconceptions of large-scale organic versus conventional farming beyond a passing note. Within its narrow focus, however, the book shines for its deep dives into everything from the mysterious urges of goats to nibble toxic plants to the reason giant chicken farms are afraid to feed some of their birds spices in pursuit of more flavorful breasts and wings. (In case you were wondering, it's because chicken farms are pro-cannibalism, and non-spiced chickens eating spiced chickens would result in nothing but spiced chickens from here on out.) At the core, even skeptics must admit that Schatzker does an admirable job of pairing scientific information with entertaining and often funny anecdotes, making this a speed-read—and I can't recommend it highly enough.
If you're not convinced yet, check out the book trailer (yes, you read that right) below.