“Tell me what you eat,” Brillat-Savarin wrote in her Physiology of Taste, “and I shall tell you what you are.” (Brillat-Savarin p.158). In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser offers his own variation on this famous aphorism: “A nation’s diet can be more revealing than its art or literature.” There is an obvious link between national identity and cuisine. We are a country of hamburger and French fry eaters, and the far-reaching consequences of this style of eating have not been adequately explored. Schlosser is less concerned by issues of cuisine than about fast food’s place as a “revolutionary force in American life.”
According to Schlosser, McDonald’s, Burger King, et al, have radically altered American agriculture, economics and social life. It imperils American health and individual life. Why does it taste so good? That taste, according to Schlosser, is emblematic of the problem. Chemically enhanced food is the emblem of successes in economic and losses in culture. Nation lost health and found thousands of chemical substances enhancing food flavor.
Flavor plays an increasing role in contemporary foodservice. Taste and aroma of dishes attract people like we attract fish with groundbate. They trick human mind and make them think that they eat VERY TASTY food. All animals avoid eat food with bad taste or smell. This is important for prevention of food-borne diseases. The most of edible plants generally taste sweet, harmful ones bitten. Human taste sensory organs, called taste buds or gustatory calyculi, appear to be receptive to relatively few chemical species as tastes. This contrasts markedly with the sense of olfaction, where very large numbers of different species can be differentiated. There are currently thought to be five “basic tastes” (Delwiche, J. F. pp. 411-415).
The saltines is produced by the presence of sodium chloride and some other salts. Sweetness is produced by the presence of sugars. Acids make taste of sourness. Bitterness depends on presence of alkaloids and other chemicals. The fifth basic taste is savoriness or “umami”. It’s produced by the free glutamates commonly found in fermented and aged foods, and in the additive MSG (monosodium glutamate). Umami taste was also found in tomatoes, seafood, and certain vegetables.
But human taste reception is not so perfect as olfactoric. We fell “flavor” as the smell of gases being released by the chemicals containing in the meal we eat. (It’s reason why cold dishes are not tasty as hot food). In his book, “Fast Food Nation”, Eric Schlosser wrotes: “The aroma of a food can be responsible for as much as 90 percent of its taste”. Physiology of taste and olfactory reception is complicated. If we will vulgarize the processes or reception and recognizing of smell we could tell that this mechanism work as biochemical key and lock. You know, neural centres of olfactory preception are located in the same part of brain where centers of memory are located. A smell “can suddenly evoke a long-forgotten moment”. (D. A. Wilson, R. J. Stevenson). Olfactory sensations play an important role in forming emotions. Eating and olfactory perception seems to be a perfect opportunity for Pavlov’s conditioning because sensory cues like the sight and smell of food are reliably followed by ingestion. (Capaldi pp. 53-80.) Personal food preferences is product of socialization. person’s food preferences, like his or her personality, are formed during the first few years of life, through a process of socialization. “Babies innately prefer sweet tastes and reject bitter ones; toddlers can learn to enjoy hot and spicy food, bland health food, or fast food, depending on what the people around them eat” – these words by Schlosser explains how the preferences are forming. Adults often return to benchmark of childhood. To smells, to tastes, to meal…
Humanity knows natural flavors many years. The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. (FDA 2002). Vanilla was a well regarded flavoring in Pre-Columbian period. Today Coca-Cola Corporation is the world’s largest customer of natural vanilla extract. This flavor played improtant role in history of Madagascar – when New Coke was introduced, in 1984, the economy of this island have been crashed. The reason is because New Coke uses vanillin, a less-expensive synthetic substitute, and purchases of vanilla more than halved during this period. Another good example is use of aji-no-moto by Japanese. They first discovered (1,500 years ago!) that certain foods tasted better when served with a broth made from seaweed. In 1908 Kikunae Ikedo from Tokio university separated out and identified the material we now know as monosodium glutamate (MSG). Today MSG is made from starch, corn sugar or molasses from sugar cane or sugar beets (Rowe).
Schlosser described the role of the human craving for flavor in world history. It caused some geographical discovers, long wars between nations. Wars over the Indonesian Spice Islands broke out between expanding European nations and continued for about 200 years, between the 15th and 17th centuries. Spain, Portugal, England, and Holland all fought for control on prosperous spice trade. In 1492 Christopher Columbus set sail to find route to the spice-growing regions (Schlosser 12_). In 1519 Spain sent Ferdinand Magellan on a voyage to sail west around the world. Magellan died in the Philippines, and his crew lost four of his five ships. However, the remaining ship brought back so much pepper and other spices that the trip was a financial success (www.spiceadvice.com).
Modern world market of flavors grows 5.4 percent annually. Its volume estimated as US$14 billion (Freedonia Report: WORLD FLAVORS & FRAGRANCES TO 2004). American flavor industry now has annual revenues of about $1.4 billion. Approximately 10,000 new processed-food products are introduced every year in the United States and almost all of them require flavor additives.
Use of flavor evolutionary process intended to render the food more tasty and palatable. Another issue of food flavoring – the problem of spoilage. Spices were known to be a preservative agents. The early flavors were not synthetic. Our great-grandmother baked cakes and made candies with syrups of natural vanilla or peppermint. But flavor pioneers also hit on the idea of substituting one natural product for another with a similar taste. In this way “maple syrup” flavor was discovered in the seed of a plant called “fenugreek”. As the science of chemistry advanced, chemists and druggists began the difficult task of finding chemical substitutes for natural products. One chemist noticed that a compound called “amyl acetate” smelled like a banana. Another observed that “methyl anthranilate” somehow reminded him of grape, so he used that as the main ingredient for an artificial grape flavor. (Kavaler) Long afterward, with improved equipment, scientists learned that these early workers in the field had stumbled on some basic truths. Amyl acetate really does exist in the natural banana, and methyl anthranilate in grapes. A lot of flavors are based on the taste of familiar products. Schlosser writes: “Natural flavors and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals, produced through different methods”. So the distinction in flavorings–natural versus artificial–comes from their source. Only one difference – artificial flavors are more cost effective and often safer. Food and Drug Administration defines the term artificial flavor or artificial flavoring as “any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products”. (FDA 2002)
Flavorists compare their work to composing music. Schlosser wrote “A well-made flavor compound will have a “top note” that is often followed by a “dry-down” and a “leveling-off,” with different chemicals responsible for each stage”. Food technology helped to create “mouthfeel”–the unique combination of textures and chemical interactions that affect how the flavor is perceived. I want to cite Schlosser’s words “… the most important advances in flavor manufacturing are now occurring in the field of biotechnology. Complex flavors are being made using enzyme reactions, fermentation, and fungal and tissue cultures.” New technology give us dairy flavors, flavor of delicious seafood, even flavors of natural smoke. Modern flavoring agent can imitate full flavor of grilled meat or fresh fruits. Today customer often do not know what he/she gets when he/she buy processed food. Religious dietary restrictions in halal and kashrut, ideosyncrasia in susceptible people – these cultural and health issues show that we need proper labeling the real content of food.
Many flavors we recognize are completely made up. Cola flavor is good example. The first glass of Coca-Cola was served on May 8, 1886 at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia. This “medicinal” drink was made of a thick syrup and carbonated water. Much of Coca-Cola’s success, of course, came from its great flavor. The distinctive “cola” flavor comes mostly from the mix of sugar, and of the essential oils of orange, lemon and vanilla. Today Coca-Cola is the market leader for soft drinks in all countries of the world except Scotland, where the locally produced “Irn Bru” is more popular, and Quebec, Canada, where “Pepsi” is the market leader. But both these beverages use Cola flavor! (And Muslim Cola and Qibla Cola too …).
Some flavors can be addictive. They work as the precursors of neurotransmitters. For example, GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) is created from MSG. GABA fits the benzodiazepine receptors in the brain as anxiolytics (e.g. valium). Glutamate also stimulates the NMDA (N-Methyl D-Aspartate) receptors in the brain. These receptors are currently being investigated for their role in long term depression.
The most of flavoring agents, including MSG, are considered by FDA to be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) (Schlosser 124). It’s indulgence for food industry to maintain the secrecy of their formulas. Schlosser writes that people usually buy a food item the first time because of its packaging or appearance, but taste usually determines whether they buy it again. “About 90 percent of the money that Americans now spend on food goes to buy processed food” – he said.
Fast food companies attract clients … by large quantities of flavor enhancers in their foods. They play with addictive features of some flavoring agents. We could discuss three types of food addiction mechanisms. The first is stomulation of opioid receptors by peptides derived from wheat and dairy products (Paroli E). The proteins gluten and casein are decomposed into opioid peptides during the digestive process. Chemical companies chemically modify these natural proteins however to make them slightly more powerful, but mostly more difficult to break down so they having a longer lasting effect. McDonald’s special sauces always contain large quantities of chemically altered casein. Wheat gluten is used in a lot of junk food like Pringles, where the chips are actually coated with glutomorphine. The second type is receptor stimulation by beta-carbolides. This class of chemicals has a number of different psychoactive effects. The ones added to foods either interfere with dopamine reuptake in a similar fashion as drugs like cocaine, or they have an affinity to the benzodiazepine complex and work like popular tranquilizers like valium. The third major type would be stuff like MSG which is really addictive (Walker R, Lupien JR). . These mechanisms work us trap for customers of fast food: people like it because they need it.
Culture of nutrition is an important indicator of human development. Use of fire for cooking, development of national cousines, appearing flavoring agents, fast food chains – these process are the milestones in history of civilization. What people eat has always been determined by a complex interplay of social, economic and technological forces. During a relatively brief period of time, the fast food industry has helped transform not only our diet, but also the landscape, economy, workforce and popular culture.
Artificial flavors became to be idols of modern culture. Modern pop is essentially processed music, in which the major chord is engineered into fast-food flavors and packaged behind a juvenile face (R. Scruton). The songs are machine-made, according to a standard specification, and the best that we can hope from them, musically speaking, is a catchy tune, as in the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.” The music is often inseparable from the video, or impossible to perform without the engineers who are its true creators — as in the notorious case of Milli Vanilli, whose Grammy award of 1990 was quite unfairly rescinded when it was discovered that they did not perform the music that was recorded in their name. Both fast food and pop music are about accommodating a culture in which work is central and social relationships are secondary. We could speak about McDonaldization of society. Every American, every inhabitant of Earth is risking the possibility of being held hostage by corporative interests that control human behavior. They could use advertising, PR technologies. But modern food technologies are more effective: they provide behavioral manipulation using physiological mechanisms which trick human mind and bring him to junk food addiction. By our favor they cheat us with flavors.
1. Capaldi E.D. (1996) Why We Eat What We Eat, pp. 53-80.
Chemistry and technology of flavors and fragrances by: D. Rowe, 2004 352 p.
3. Delwiche, J. F. (1996). Are there ‘basic’ tastes? Trends in Food Science and Technology, Vol. 7, pp. 411-415.
4. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser Perennial; 1st edition 2002 400 p.
5. Paroli E. et al, Opioid peptides from food (the exorphins). World Rev. Nutr. Diet. 1988 / 55 / 58-97
6. The artificial world around us, by Lucy Kavaler 1963
7. The Physiology of Taste: Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, MFK Fisher p.158
Walker R, Lupien JR. The safety evaluation of monosodium glutamate. J Nutr. 2000 Apr;130(4S Suppl):1049S-52S.