Chapter 7: Fried Chicken Saved My Life! (But Can It Save Yours?)
MORNING IN September, sunny and clear. A thirty-nine-year-old man with advanced bed head walks downstairs for breakfast when
a strange thing happens. His coffee tastes too sweet. His tongue is coated in a kind of cloying sugariness. He can’t seem to taste the coffee—only sweet. Did he put in too much sugar? The man doesn’t think so, but he brews another cup just the same because coffee is one of the minor high points of his day. When the second cup is ready, he carefully adds a splash of 2 percent milk and a smaller splash of 10 percent cream and more care- fully stirs in a single spoonful of sugar.
There it is again. The coffee is too sweet. If his mouth were a TV, the man would slap the top to try and knock it back to working order. He takes another sip and a thought occurs to him. Drink it without sugar.
The man does not take his coffee without sugar. Without sugar, coffee tastes like what it is: roasted bean water. If the man ever accidentally sipped his wife’s coffee—she takes hers with no sugar—he’d scrunch up his face and wonder how she could tolerate this thin, bitter soup. The man doesn’t worry about calories because he is trim. He feels justified, furthermore, in his sugar usage because many years earlier he had taken something called the PROP test. He placed a piece of paper dipped in a special chemical on his tongue and found that it was distressingly bitter. This confirmed he was “sensitive” to bitter tastes. He needed sugar in his coffee to cancel out all that bitterness. He spoke to one flavor expert who told him that putting sugar in his coffee was a mark of a sensitive palate. He was a proud sugar user. His taste buds were set to maximum.
Something, clearly, has changed. Intellectually, the man is still pro- sugar. His tongue is still anti-bitter. But his feelings now are anti-sugar.
THAT MAN was me.
It all got me thinking about my own fruit bingeing. It had undeniably druglike aspects. Sudden cravings, uninhibited consumption, reward by the ladleful. And yet it’s hard to see eating plums, clementines, and peaches as abuse. A three-grapefruit bender adds up to about 250 calories, or about 10 percent of my recommended daily intake. A two- kiwi binge is 85 calories, and coffee with cream and no sugar is around
30. These food experiences barely register on the Yale Food Addiction Scale. There is no regret, no “dysphoria” when I’m not using. I don’t feel sluggish or fatigued and never melt into a puddle of self-loathing. I don’t lie to friends and family about these foods. I invite them over for heirloom fried chicken. And yet, as with cocaine and nicotine, I seemed to titrate my dose. I would eat enough grapefruit—or tomatoes or fried chicken—and I was done. They hit the spot so perfectly that the spot vanished.
Whatever is going on, this much is obvious: There are highly pleasurable foods that do not follow the Dorito model of intake; you don’t just keep eating and eating. However fantastic wild blueberries and sweet juicy peaches are, you can’t pig out on them the way you can on Big Macs, chicken nuggets, and soft drinks. These foods trigger a deeper, more complete satiety, and the reason, as odd as it may sound, has something do with toxicity. The food nature makes has a lower toxicity threshold than the food humans make. You can’t eat quite as much before the hunger light goes off.
How to Live Long and Eat Flavorfully
Eat Real Flavor
In nature, flavor never appears without nutrition. No morsel of food should pass your lips before you have asked the following question: Where did the flavor come from? If it came from the plant or animal you’re eating, keep eating. If it was applied by a human with a PhD in chemistry, put it down.
Eat Like a Utah Goat
Eat a variety of real foods, including things you think you might hate, like broccoli, collard greens, liver, and mackerel. (Trust me: All are delicious.) Recognize that your palate is a growing, living thing. It can and it will change. What you liked when you were nine years old is not what you will like as an adult. Nibble new foods. Try something ten times before you know for sure you don’t like it. Above all, eat foods you find deeply satisfying.
Flavor Starts in the Womb
Research shows that for infants (and cattle, too) the lasting effects of flavor start before birth. Babies are exposed to flavors via amniotic fluid and breast milk, and moms who eat healthy food beget kids who are less picky. Moms who eat junk food, on the other hand, tend to have kids who like junk food. The palate is a lifelong investment. Treat it properly.
Eat For Flavor
Eat the best-tasting real food you can find. If you think it’s expensive, remember that it’s going to a very important place: your body. Seek out carrots that taste sweet and carroty. Find peaches that are juicy, tender, and peachy. Choose varieties of lettuce that actually have flavor. (General rule: The darker the leaf, the stronger the flavor.) Try the branded tomatoes that cost more—they usually taste better—and opt for “virgin” cold-pressed oils over refined ones. (Though be aware that virgin oils don’t always perform well during sautéing or frying.) Visit farmers’ markets to find the farmer growing the best-tasting food. Try out the produce at more expensive supermarkets to see if it’s better. And if the food you bought tastes like cardboard, complain. Complain to your spouse, complain to the waiter, complain to the chef, or complain to the person or supermarket you bought it from. No one will know you care if you don’t say anything. Finally, sit back and think of all the money you’ll save on ranch dressing, ketchup, and whipped cream.
Eat Meat from Pastured Animals
It costs more, but it’s healthier and you will eat less of it. Choose grass- fed beef that’s at least twenty-two months old—not the ultralean cheap stuff—and pasture-raised pork. Buy cheaper braising cuts that will perfume dishes and nourish your soul. The chicken situation is dire. Most “pasture-raised” birds are modern broilers that just happen to be squatting on blades of grass as they stuff their gizzards with corn and soybeans, and their appetites and growth rates are such that they can’t consume enough pasture for it to make much more than a token contribution to their flavor or nutrient profile. Organic chicken is often worse—just a high-yield broiler that’s fattened, indoors, on organic feed. Comb farmers’ markets and specialty food shops for chickens no younger than nine weeks—and preferably twelve to eighteen—that have access to pasture in warmer months and are fed green feed when it’s too cold to go outside. (If you can get your hands on a bird older than eighteen weeks, make chicken and dumplings, but have some tissue on hand to sop up the tears of joy.) Warning: You can’t tell a good chicken by the color of its skin—billions of commercial broilers are fed pigments to make them look “free range,” and some very fine heirloom varieties, such as the Houdan, Dorking, and Australorp (and certain Label Rouge hybrids), will have white skin no matter how much carotenoids they peck.* A good chicken appears less squat and obese than a broiler, and has longish legs and a diminutive breast that harks back to a more in- nocent era. Finding such a chicken isn’t easy, but it is worth it.
Avoid Synthetic Flavor Technology
A single can of Coke, bag of chips, squeezable yogurt tube, or fast-food meal will not reprogram your palate and doom you to a future of extreme obesity. But each time you consume human-made flavors, you’re tricking your brain (or, worse, the brain of a child). The more you do it, the greater the consequences. The less you do it, the less you’ll like food like that in the first place. Read the ingredients.
Mark Schatzker is an award-winning writer based in Toronto. He is a radio columnist for the Canadian Broadcast Corporation and a frequent contributor to the Globe and Mail, Condé Nast Traveler, and Bloomberg Pursuits. He is the author of The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor and Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef. He has a new book coming soon from Simon & Schuster.
From THE DORITO EFFECT: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker. Copyright 2015 by Mark Schatzker. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.