Epistemic Spot Check: The Dorito Effect (Mark Schatzker)

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Epistemic Spot Checks is a se­ries in which I fact check claims a book makes, to de­ter­mine its trust­wor­thi­ness. It is not a book re­view or a check on ev­ery claim the book makes, merely a spot check of what I find par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing or im­por­tant (or already know).

To­day’s sub­ject is The Dorito Effect, which claims that Amer­i­cans are get­ting fat be­cause food is si­mul­ta­neously get­ting blan­der and less nu­tri­tious, and then more in­tensely fla­vored through ar­tifi­cial means. This is leav­ing peo­ple fat and yet mal­nour­ished.

Claims

Claim: Hu­mans did not get fat­ter over the last 100 years due to changes in ge­net­ics.
True. Peo­ple are fat­ter than their an­ces­tors, in­di­cat­ing it’s not a change in ge­net­ics (al­though ge­net­ics still plays a role in an in­di­vi­d­ual’s weight).

Claim: Casimir Funk dis­cov­ered that an ex­tract of brown rice could cure beriberi in chick­ens.
True.

Claim: In 1932, the av­er­age farm pro­duced 63 sacks of pota­toes/​acre. By the mid 1960s, it was 200 sacks/​acre.
True.


(source).

Claim: Every­thing is get­ting blan­der and more sea­soned.
More sea­soned.
Blan­der food.
Note that both sources were pro­vided by the book it­self.

Claim: “We eat for one rea­son: be­cause we love the way food tastes. Fla­vor is the origi­nal crav­ing”.
This doesn’t jive with my per­sonal ex­pe­rience. I definitely crave nu­tri­ents and am satis­fied by them even with­out tast­ing them.

Claim: “In 1946 and 1947, re­gional Chicken Of To­mor­row con­tests were held.”
True.

Claim: Over time the Chicken Of To­mor­row win­ners con­sis­tently weighed more, with less feed and less time to ma­tu­rity.
True.

Claim: Pro­duce is get­ting less nu­tri­tious over time.
True (source pro­vided by au­thor).

Conclusions

Ex­tremely trust­wor­thy, and there­fore wor­ri­some, given the im­pli­ca­tion that food is be­com­ing in­ex­orably worse. Dorito Effect is un­for­tu­nately light on solu­tions, so you might just freak your­self out to no pur­pose. On the other hand, if you’re look­ing for a kick to start eat­ing bet­ter, this could eas­ily be it.