Tastes Like Chicken… or Teddy Bear Stuffing. Same Thing.

Dear friends in food,

Run, don’t walk, to your nearest book store and buy this book. Now. Do it!

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I finished it last night, got up this morning and re-read a whole chunk of it and probably will have to read it again. Wow. So much information, so beautifully explained, at times depressing and ultimately hopeful. Mark Schatzker’s book illustrates how in nature food and flavour are intricately linked. Please note that I said IN NATURE. The food industry has done an excellent job recreating flavours to fool our mouths and increase demand. You can fool the mouth, but you can’t fool the body.

He explains that dilution of flavour brought about by overproduction – yield increases have diminished micronutrients in our vegetables, and breeding of animals for size and killing them young has destroyed flavour in meats – has led to overconsumption as our bodies fight to find the micronutrients we need for optimal health. To complicate matters further, the food industry has added flavours to these foods to fool our mouths into thinking that the intensely flavoured foods are full of nutrients. There is a link in more ways than one to flavour and obesity and other food-related health issues.

He also explains the difference between artificial and natural flavouring labels. Guess what? They’re THE SAME THING! Probably some of you smarty pantses knew this already, but I was one of the suckers and I’m ridiculously angry about how easy it was to manipulate me. I read a lot. I know a chunk about food. But I didn’t know that the difference in the labelling refers to the process not the product. There is no difference in the final product, the label artificial or natural refers to the process by which the flavours are created. WTF?

Let me tell you a story. Saturday I drove my oldest son to his summer job east of Algonquin Park. It was a 5+ hour drive and to break it up I decided to go a couple of hours south east to Kingston to visit some friends.

They have the good fortune to live on a beautiful and vibrant park where there happened to be a music festival on. We decided to sit on the front porch to eat our meal. My friends have a CSA share and they’d just received some spicy greens. We had those. There were big fat portobellos and peppers and onions all grilled on their little space age-looking charcoal bbq with some grilled halloumi cheese. Home made simple vinaigrette completed the meal. Oh my. With the music wafting across the park and neighbours and friends stopping by to join in, it was truly a memorable meal. I felt satiated. I felt happy and full. I had a small plate of deliciousness grown from the earth on a small farm and it was truly satisfying.

So I get what Mark Schatzker is saying. Flavour-dense foods, truly naturally flavoured (that is, flavour that REALLY comes from nature), are our salvation. He ends the book talking about the increasing demand for things like arugula and greens, that people really don’t want bland. When we stop being confounded by synthetic flavourings our innate food wisdom will tell us what we need. And what we need is nutrient-dense food. And guess what else? This food not only tastes great, it makes us happy. Food is happiness. Food is life.

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