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.


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.

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


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.”

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

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


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.


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A page number or something for the 'more seasoned' link might be useful. The document is very long and doesn't appear to contain 'season-'.

The 'blander' link doesn't look like it supports the claim much, though I am only looking at the abstract. It says that 'in many instances' there have been reductions in crop flavor, but even this appears to be background that the author is assuming, rather than a claim that the paper is about. If the rest of the paper does contain more evidence on this, could you quote it or something, since the paper is expensive to see?

Re: seasoning. Page 19: "Miscellaneous foods including spices generally increased from 10 pounds per capita in 1909 to 13 pounds per capita in 2000. Spices were not added to the food supply until 1918. The use of spices increased more than fivefold from one-half pound per capita in 1918 to 2.59 pounds per capita in 2000 (data not shown)."

Have contacted you out of band with a copy of the paper, which does indeed go into more detail than the abstract.

This doesn’t jive with my personal experience. I definitely crave nutrients and am satisfied by them even without tasting them.

This is interesting to me. I have no similar experience.

Huh. Does your experience of taste change depending on how full up you are on a nutrient?

I share something like this experience (food desirability varies a lot based on unknown factors and something is desirable for maybe a week and then not desirable for months) but haven't checked carefully that it is about nutrient levels in particular. If you have, I'd be curious to hear more about how.

(My main alternative hypothesis regarding my own experience is that it is basically imaginary, so you might just have a better sense than me of which things are imaginary..)

For a datapoint on general ignorance in this domain, I have never noticed the effects of caffeine on my energy levels, even though I regularly drink energy drinks because my housemates buy lots of them. (I don't think I'm unusually bad at introspection either.)

I get a sense-of-craving-that-could-be-satisfied-without-taste only for protein and a diffuse "vegetables," in addition to general hunger signals (though plausibly some of my sugar-craving is triggered by desire for vitamins in fruit, I can't disentangle it from desire for the taste). Not sure how detailed other peoples' experiences are.

Not that I've noticed.

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