Could taste, or more precisely the lack of taste in today’s mass-produced food be a contributor to the obesity epidemic in America? Food that is fresh, seasonal and locally grown simply tastes better than processed and packaged fare that can be microwaved or ordered through a clown’s mouth. Why else would we call the latter “junk food”? Yet junk has become the norm as relatively few Americans have ever experienced the fabulous flavors of fresh, seasonal and local food.
American’s have become increasingly detached from the food they eat as evidenced by the fact that they spend less time cooking (< 30 min/day) than people of any other nation, but do not spend any more time at work. The daily caloric intake of American youth has steadily risen since 1977 and parallels the increased daily consumption of fast food. A child born today in the U.S. is estimated to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents due to the epidemic rise in obesity, which has exploded from 10% in 1990 to over 30% today and may reach 70% in the next 10-15 years. The low cost and convenience myth of fast food spread by the processed food industry has resulted in the loss of the true values of food in American. The value of food is expressed through culture, history, family, community and above all delicious taste.
The pleasure of taste is why we eat, dine and celebrate the joy of food and the culture that surrounds it. The taste of delicious food lingers on the palate long after the taste buds have been excited, much like a bell resonates for several moments after it is struck. The flavorful sensations of good food can actually take away your breath, cause you to pause, put down your fork and become momentarily lost in infinite pleasures of taste. Thus, the taste of fresh and delicious food can actually slow down the rate of eating, which in turn allows neural signals of satiety to reach the brain and reduce the amount of food eaten.
But, what happens when food fails to satisfy the innate need for the pleasure of taste? Sweet and salt are the dominant flavors in American processed and fast food, while the basic flavors of sour and bitter tend to be limited if not absent. Sweet and salt are big flavors that tend to overwhelm the palate and block the subtle flavors that resonate on the palate and provide lingering pleasure. The taste of these big flavors soon dissipates after the food is swallowed and the innate need for pleasure hastens the next bite. Speeding up the rate of eating increases the amount of food eaten as the signals of satiety reach the brain long after too much food has been consumed. Thus, eating flavor-lacking fast food, which is “conveniently” served in large portions, tends to trigger overeating.
Exposing the collective American palate to the pleasure of truly delicious fresh, seasonal and locally produced food just might be the key to halting and reversing the obesity epidemic in America. The mission of Slow Food states that all people have the right to good food, defined as a fresh and flavorsome seasonal diet that satisfies the senses and is part of our local culture. Support Slow Food and it’s slow revolution towards rediscovering the value of local, fresh, seasonal food and make a case for taste.
PhD, RD, LDN, CLT, Chair, Slow Food New Orleans
Article originally published on the Slow Food USA blog www.slowfoodusa.org
Photo: © Kunal Chandra