Flocking Back To Friedman This September

Dear Readers,

Summer may be winding down here in Boston, but the The Sprout is just getting started! Back for the 2016/2017 academic year, we are here to welcome our new and fellow Friedmanites (back) to campus after what was hopefully an exciting summer of internships, adventures and travel.

As we gear up for fall and the start of classes, our trusty contributors offer ways to get involved at Friedman and in the surrounding community. Oh, and don’t worry–we even catch you up on new food fads you may have missed.

Ushering in the new year is John VanderHeide, Co-Chair of Student Council, who gives us the lowdown on events and initiatives Student Council is cooking up for the semester. First up? A (last chance to soak in the sun) summer picnic you don’t want to miss.

Next, Mike Zastoupil and Sam Hoeffler tell us how we can get involved in our Chinatown community and get hands-on teaching experience–all while playing in the dirt–with the Dig In! Nutrition Education (DINE) program.

While many Friedman students travel for internships, Krissy Scommegna shares her experience working for the Somerville Backpack Program and how rewarding a summer in the Boston community can be. Jealous of her awesome internship? Don’t worry: you too can get up and give back by volunteering, and Krissy tells us how.

If, say, becoming the new Director of the Somerville Backpack Program or interning with the UN in Rwanda kept you out of the summer food news loop, Jennifer Huang and Hannah Meier are here to give you the scoop. Jennifer opens our eyes to the magic of the latest food trend, lemon preserves, while Hannah gives us the facts on the latest diet trend, intermittent fasting, and also reviews Mark Schatzker’s book The Dorito Effect, giving us her take on “new” food flavors and the obesity epidemic.

Don’t forget to follow The Sprout on twitter (@friedmansprout) and Facebook, now managed by our new Contributing Editor and social media maven, Julia Sementelli! And, as always, we thank our end-of-summer contributors and look forward to another successful year!

Cheers to a new year packed with new adventures,

Micaela & Kathleen

 

In this issue: 

Bringing Friedman Together: A Welcome Letter From Student Council

by John VanderHeide

IMG_7193At the heart of the Friedman community sits our Student Council, who is busy planning a host of opportunities to bring Friedmanites together this year. Don’t miss out on these fun events–read this letter from John VanderHeide, Student Council Co-Chair, on how you can get involved.

 

 

Dig In and Give Back with DINE!

by Mike Zastoupil and Sam HoefflerHoeffler_DINE_taste1

Want to make new friends at Friedman and be a part of the Chinatown community? Become a
teacher with DINE!

 

 

Summer, Sandwiches and Sticking Around: Interning in Boston

by Krissy Scommegna

somerville backpack programMaking the conscious effort to stick around Boston and be a part of the community isn’t necessarily what every Friedman student is looking for. Some see their time in Boston/Somerville/Cambridge as a stop on the way to their next big thing. However, taking the time early on to invest and become rooted here can open doors to incredible opportunities. Krissy Scommegna talks about how a class at Friedman led to finding an internship and eventually to her appointment as the Director of the Somerville Backpack Program.

 

Lemon Preserve: Lemons + Salt + Patience

By Jennifer HuangScreen Shot 2016-09-01 at 1.16.39 PM

Have you ever seen “patience” listed as a recipe ingredient? No? Well you’ll need it, as this simple recipe promises a unique and versatile flavor burst that is well worth the wait.

 

 

What is Intermittent Fasting, and Does It Really Work?

By Hannah Meier

The "Basic Seven" Developed by the USDA in 1943

You may have heard of caloric restriction and the myriad benefits it supposedly brings to the metabolic table. New research suggests that intermittent fasting could be a safe way for people to improve their health, but before you adopt this eating pattern, read up on six common mistakes to avoid.

 

 

Book Review: The Dorito Effect–The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor By Mark Schatzker

By Hannah MeierDorito Effect picture

Grocery store shelves are teeming with products that cater to every sense of flavor. New flavor combinations seem to appear out of thin air every day. Even meat and produce sections increasingly offer pre-seasoned and flavor-enhanced options. What happened to real flavor, and what does all of this have to do with the obesity epidemic? Mark Schatzker, a New York Times food journalist, hypothesizes the connection is stronger than cayenne pepper.

Bringing Friedman Together: A Welcome Letter From Student Council

by John VanderHeide

At the heart of the Friedman community sits our Student Council, who is busy planning a host of opportunities to bring Friedmanites together this year. Don’t miss out on these fun events–read this letter from John VanderHeide, Student Council Co-Chair, on how you can get involved.

Getting in touch with our silly sides at Friedman Field Day on Georges Island last semester.

Getting in touch with our silly sides at Friedman Field Day, a Student Council sponsored event on Georges Island last semester.

Hello Friedman,

I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome you to (or back to, as the case may be) school after what I hope was an amazing summer. To celebrate our wonderful community the Student Council will be hosting a picnic on Sunday September 11 near the docks on the Esplanade. We bring the food, you bring yourselves and your favorite lawn game or sporting activity. It will be a great way to enjoy a summer day before Boston remembers that it is supposed to be cold here and we have to go inside again.

Finding ways to bring the Friedman community together is one of the things that I enjoy most about serving on the Friedman Student Council. Last year we were able to organize 16 different social events ranging from an “Orphan Thanksgiving” for students staying in town over the short break to the end of year “Friedman Field Day” on Georges Island where we celebrated ending our studies with some fun in the sun. Looking ahead to the coming year, Social Chair Orion Kobayashi has already started putting together a list of events, big and small, that should be a ton of fun. Let him know if you have any ideas or suggestions, and I look forward to seeing you all when you need a diversion from your studies.

Building community structures is another part of the Friedman Student Council that I have found particularly rewarding. One of our roles is to serve as a connection between the student body and the administration of the school. As part of that function we organize a student feedback event each semester to ask your opinion on your experience at the school and how it is being run. In the fall we will be holding a town hall-style feedback event on Thursday, November 3–come and be opinionated. There are also many other less formal ways in which we are able to provide feedback to the administration, so never hesitate to let us know how things are going or if you need anything from us as your representatives. An easy place to reach us is at friedmanstc@gmail.com.

The last of our major functions is to provide funding to the many vibrant student organizations that operate at the Friedman School. During the 2015-2016 school year we were able to fund $3,608 in requests made by seven different student groups such as Friedman Justice League, Slow Food, and Business Link, among others. They used these funds to put on 48 additional events ranging from an Environmental Justice tour of Roxbury to five TED-style talks on new issues in nutrition. We are really excited about seeing the great ideas that you all come up with this year—hopefully we can beat last year’s student funding levels and give you all more money for cool activities.

For those of you interested helping us do this fun and important work, we are looking to fill 11 council positions this fall, including Treasurer, Curriculum and Degrees Representative, Co-Chair, and others. Being on council has been a lot of fun for me, and really great way to connect to the Friedman School. Rachel Hoh, current Student Life Representative, agrees saying, “I started in AFE last spring, halfway through the 2015-2016 academic year. Because of that, I was worried I was going to be playing catch up all semester! Being a part of Student Council has been an immersive experience, allowing me to jump right into social and academic life at the Friedman School.”

So, if anything you read here sounds interesting we will be holding informational meetings the first couple of weeks of the semester with applications due September 16, and elections on September 20-21–watch for more information in your inbox and on social media soon! Having you join us would be a pleasure.

Cheers,

John VanderHeide
Friedman Student Council Co-Chair
AFE/UEP Class of ‘18

John VanderHeide is a second-year AFE /UEP dual degree student studying food system planning and policy in the developing world. He recently spent the summer interning with the UN World Food Programme in Rwanda.

Dig In and Give Back with DINE!

by Mike Zastoupil and Sam Hoeffler

Want to make new friends at Friedman and be a part of the Chinatown community? Become a teacher with DINE!

Students taste-test veggies of all colors of the rainbow. Photo by Sam Hoeffler.

Students taste-test veggies of all colors of the rainbow. Photo by Sam Hoeffler.

School gardens have been popping up in cities all across the U.S. in an effort to teach children where their food comes from, and of course Tufts University’s Friedman School is part of the movement. For more than 10 years, the Dig In! Nutrition Education (DINE) program has brought Friedman students into neighboring Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Chinatown to teach third graders about nutrition and life science, with an emphasis on the importance of gardening and eating healthy food. Based on research conducted by past Friedman students on best teaching practices, DINE teachers facilitate hands-on, interactive lessons about plant parts, worm bin decomposition, pollinators and more. The program consists of four lessons in the fall and three lessons in the spring, with a culminating end-of-the-year celebration on the rooftop garden that the students themselves plant from seed.

Students draw food webs. Photo by Carolyn Panzarella.

Students draw food webs. Photo by Carolyn Panzarella.

Worm compost built by DINE students. Photo by Kathleen Nay.

Worm compost built by DINE students. Photo by Kathleen Nay.

The DINE program gives Friedman students the chance to gain real experience in garden-based education as well as the opportunity to give back to the Chinatown community. The excitement of the kids and fun activities are also a refreshing study break for Friedman students during their long hours of work. If you are interested in becoming a DINE teacher this fall, please contact Mike Zastoupil (michael.zastoupil@tufts.edu) or Sam Hoeffler (samantha.hoeffler@tufts.edu) for more information. We hope you’ll join us this fall!

Excerpt from a thank-you card from a third grade student at Josiah Quincy Elementary School.

Excerpt from a thank-you card from a third grade student at Josiah Quincy Elementary School.

Mike Zastoupil and Sam Hoeffler are second-years who had a blast teaching for DINE last year and are now serving as the DINE coordinators. Mike is in the Agriculture, Food and Environment program, and Sam is in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program.

Summer, Sandwiches and Sticking Around: Interning in Boston

by Krissy Scommegna

Making the conscious effort to stick around Boston and be a part of the community isn’t necessarily what every Friedman student is looking for. Some see their time in Boston/Somerville/Cambridge as a stop on the way to their next big thing. However, taking the time early on to invest and become rooted here can open doors to incredible opportunities. Krissy Scommegna talks about how a class at Friedman led to finding an internship and eventually to her appointment as the Director of the Somerville Backpack Program

It’s a typical Friday morning during the school year and at 5:45 am, my phone is gently reminding me that it is time to get up, down a few mugs of coffee, and jump on the orange line to East Somerville to make a few hundred sandwiches. Not what you expected as the classic graduate student experience? Me neither. Shockingly, graduate school is not all grabbing evening beers and having deep discussions about Farm Bill appropriations (sorry, first years!).

The truth is, I wouldn’t be getting up at such an unsightly hour on a day I didn’t have class if it weren’t for Food Justice, an Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP) class I took last fall that is cross-registered with the Friedman School. I fell hard and fast for the mission of the two organizations myself and five other students were assigned to work with that semester. My experiences working with Food For Free and the Somerville Backpack Program have considerably shaped my time in Boston, making it clear that Friedman was the right choice for me. Not only did the class help me secure a great internship, I landed a really incredible job.

Food For Free is a Cambridge-based food rescue organization that takes food that would otherwise be wasted and redistributes it to over 100 food programs and agencies throughout Boston’s emergency food system. As a group, we helped Food For Free develop the framework for an Emergency Meal Program for feeding students in crisis.

As the semester drew to a close, I knew I wasn’t ready to be done with this work. I asked Ross Richmond, Food For Free’s Community Partnership Manager, if I could stick around and work with him on the program for my Friedman internship. He obliged and from January to August, we piloted the Family Meals Program at Food For Free, taking leftover prepared foods from Harvard and Tufts dining halls, repacking the food into individual meals, and distributing the meals to people in need. Ross and I spent countless hours in a kitchen smashing up frozen blocks of rice with hammers, prying apart pieces of frozen roasted chicken with crow bars, and agonizing over the most appealing way to package and label the Family meals. Together, we produced somewhere close to 8,000 meals.

In looking for communities that would benefit most from ready-to-eat frozen meals, Food For Free became part of the Feastworthy coalition. This meant our Family Meals would go to feeding homeless families living in the State’s motel shelter system in Brighton. Feastworthy was made possible by the Allston Brighton Health Collaborative, Action for Boston Community Development’s Neighborhood Opportunity Center and their Motel Support Services, and Charlesview Inc. Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program also administered a study that tracked the health outcomes associated with program participation. Working with these different organizations was an incredible learning experience and I was able to understand just how difficult, but rewarding, it is to accomplish a task while staying true to the missions of five different stakeholders.

So what does this have to do with making sandwiches? Well, along with working at Food For Free, Ross Richmond founded the Somerville Backpack Program (SBP) in 2014, a program that provides students in need in Somerville with breakfast, lunch, and snacks on the weekend so that they are able to return to school at the start of the week ready to learn. I started volunteering each week with SBP, packing up bags of food, making too many sandwiches to count (actually – we did count and volunteers made 7,485 sandwiches over the whole school year), and connecting with parents and members of the Somerville community.

Students that participate in SBP are kids who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs and have difficulty getting enough to eat on the weekend. Each week, these students are sent home with a bag containing yogurt, oatmeal, two sandwiches, cheese sticks, applesauce, and two pieces of fruit. Last year SBP served an average of 131 kids a week at eight Somerville schools. At the end of the school year, SBP provided food for upwards of 171 students. Over the 2015-2016 school year, 5,260 bags of weekend food were sent home with kids.

There is something meditative about spending an hour or two after a long week of school putting two slices of turkey and a piece of cheese between wheat bread two hundred times in a row. That is what the Somerville Backpack Program became for me—a way to become a part of Somerville’s food assistance community and get outside of my graduate student bubble and mindset.

Ross and I became close friends, and when he and his wife were asked to relocate to Los Angeles for her job, he looked to me to continue his program. This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. So… I’m excited to say that I am the new Director of the Somerville Backpack Program. I really couldn’t be more thrilled about this new adventure and getting the chance to provide food for kids that really need it.

This year, we hope to expand our reach and provide food to 300 students in all elementary and middle schools in Somerville. In the fall, students from the Food Justice course will be working with SBP to develop an assessment tool to analyze food insecurity, specifically at the individual school level, to see if we are appropriately addressing need and proposing additional ways to help provide food for Somerville families. I hope to engage students here at Friedman, too; I’ll be organizing a sandwich-making afternoon one Thursday a month (details forthcoming).

Making sandwiches for Somerville students and putting together Family Meals are a bit different from my previous life of working as a chef in Northern California where I spent my evenings rolling out sheets of fresh pasta and plating up shrimp salpićon. Though it all boils down to one point. I’m realizing more and more that my passion is feeding people in any way I can. With one year at Friedman behind me and one more ahead, I’m finding a myriad of ways to make this happen.

Friedman has this incredible way of connecting you with opportunities and experiences you didn’t realize you needed or wanted. I came to school to move away from kitchen work, but the reality is that cooking is what I love and will always be a part of the work that I do. While I hope it becomes a secondary pursuit to a future in agriculture policy, I know my desire to cook for others will never leave me.

So if you have a free Friday morning, stop by Connexion at 149 Broadway in East Somerville (close to the Sullivan Square Orange Line Stop) from 8:45 am till 10:30 am and make some sandwiches, pack up bags, and help feed students at Somerville Public Schools. If you know me, you know there will be some great dance music to get your day started.

Krissy Scommegna is a second year AFE student who struggles to cook for less than 10 at a time. She is constantly thinking about food and if she hasn’t already, will probably try and convince you to volunteer at the Somerville Backpack Program or Food For Free in the near future.

Lemon Preserve: Lemons + Salt + Patience

By Jennifer Huang

Have you ever seen “patience” listed as a recipe ingredient? No? Well you’ll need it, as this simple recipe promises a unique and versatile flavor burst that is well worth the wait.

I have seen lemon preserves in Middle Eastern grocery stores before—usually as unappealing lemons floating in questionable liquid—and never gave them a second thought. Thankfully, my brother recently enlightened me on what lemon preserves are after he saw a recipe posted by our favorite Taiwanese food blogger, Karen Hsu.

Lemon preserves aren’t new to the scene: The earliest reference to this ingredient was in an Arab Mediterranean recipe from the 11th century, according to the Encyclopedia of Kitchen History. Today, you will find lemon preserves in many Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisines.

So what’s the hype? Well, many recipe bloggers describe how the fermenting process brings the flavor and fragrance of lemon to an unimaginable level. Used in recipes for salad dressing, couscous, chicken and many other dishes, lemon preserve is a versatile ingredient sure to liven up any dish. Another beautiful thing about lemon preserve—it is simple to make and requires few ingredients. However, one of them, as Serious Eats has put it, is patience.

Here is the recipe translated and adapted from Karen Hsu’s blog:

Lemon Preserve

Duration: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 12 lemons
  • 200 g salt (approximately ¾ cup)
  • 3-4 whole pieces of bay leaves (optional)
  • Some black pepper (optional)
  • Patience

Lemon Preserve Picture (1)

Steps:

  • Sterilize glass jars. (My brother and I boiled mason jars in water for 10 minutes.)
  • Cut six lemons into ¼ inches slices.
  • Layer salt and lemon slices in the jar. Put some salt into the jar first, then a lemon slice, then salt, etc.
  • After layering, crush the bay leaves and sprinkle both the bay leaves and black pepper into the jar (optional).
  • Squeeze juice from the other six lemons into the jar.
  • Seal the jar and put it in the refrigerator.
  • Wait for a month. (Yes. A month, but it will transform your life after that month.)

Disclaimer: I have used this recipe, but have not tasted it myself (it won’t be ready until September 14, and is currently fermenting in Houston). However, after reading a myriad of articles about lemon preserve, I think it is a promising addition to anyone’ shelf.

But… since my patience is wearing thin, I have found Moroccan restaurants in Somerville and Charleston that have lemon preserve dishes I am dying to try. Join me if you are interested, because I shall be going there, very soon.

Jennifer Huang is a first-year FPAN student. She worked as a dietitian in Houston and is interested in the economics and trade of food and food safety at the international level.

What is Intermittent Fasting, and Does It Really Work?

By Hannah Meier

You may have heard of caloric restriction and the myriad benefits it supposedly brings to the metabolic table. New research suggests that intermittent fasting could be a safe way for people to improve their health, but before you adopt this eating pattern, read up on six common mistakes to avoid.

The newest diet to gain popular attention isn’t much of a diet at all. It is something that most people who adhere to a traditional sleeping and waking cycle are already primed to do—and, proponents would argue, is something humans have been doing successfully for centuries. Intermittent Fasting (IF) has garnered support in the fitness community as a weight management tool for bodybuilders and other fitness enthusiasts. Recently, a growing portion of the scientific community has begun to also regard IF as a feasible way to improve metabolic health and perhaps even extend one’s lifespan.

Instead of eating many times throughout the day, between 6:00 am and 10:00 pm for example, Intermittent Fasters will couple periods of extended fasting (from 14 to 24 hours) with shorter periods of eating. This can be achieved by a change as simple as lengthening the overnight fast by a few hours each day. Different variations of IF propose reducing intake to 500-600 calories for just two days of the week; others recommend one full, 24-hour weekly fast. There are no particular restrictions on the type of foods allowed to be consumed, as long as meals are kept within the “eating window” and consumption does not surpass the feeling of comfortable fullness.

Experimental studies in rats have suggested that providing the body with an extended fast (up to 24 hours) is physiologically beneficial, potentially improving insulin sensitivity, decreasing resting heart rate and blood pressure and reducing body wide inflammation—all of which could contribute to a longer expected lifespan. Further, adapting to a shorter eating window may help to moderate overall calorie intake. Randomized controlled trials demonstrating benefits in humans have yet to be published. Because humans share an evolutionary adaptation to generations of unpredictable periods of fasting and feasting, however, scientists are eager to tease out this connection in future studies.

Still, many nutrition professionals are hesitant to advocate IF as superior to other diets or as a safe and effective approach to weight loss. At the end of the day, reducing calories consumed and increasing energy expended through physical activity is what matters for losing weight, and there are many ways to achieve this goal that do not require adopting a rigid eating schedule. It is important to consider your lifestyle, motivation, and sacrifices you are willing (or not willing) to make in order to reap the potential benefits of intermittent fasting. Like any diet, adherence is key to success. Here are six common mistakes to avoid if you think intermittent fasting sounds like something you want to try.

Six Mistakes Most People Make When They Begin Intermittent Fasting

  1. Giving up too soon

It is normal to feel more irritable or sluggish as the body adapts to a longer fasting period and adjusts its hormonal signaling (most scientists believe this adaptation underlies many of the health benefits of IF). Intermittent Fasters will likely find that true hunger feels different than the hunger pangs and uptick in heartbeat associated with fluctuating blood sugar, which we experience when we are used to frequent eating—learn to recognize it.

  1. Forgetting about quality
The "Basic Seven" Developed by the USDA in 1943

The “Basic Seven” Developed by the USDA in the 1940’s

Even though IF does not restrict the type of foods allowed to be consumed during the eating period, it’s essential to maintain proper nutrition. Metabolic improvements like insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammation could very well be negated if fasters neglect nutritional balance and decide to eat foods high in salt, saturated fat, and refined carbohydrates exclusively, avoiding fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. You may still lose weight if you’re consuming fewer calories overall, but the efficiency of your body systems will suffer—and you probably won’t feel too well, either.

 

 

  1. Forgetting to hydrate

Hydration is key, especially during periods of fasting. Adequate hydration is necessary for pretty much every function in the body and will keep you feeling energized and alert. During fasting periods water, tea, coffee and no- or low-calorie beverages are allowed (just watch out for added cream and sugar). Keep tabs on the color of your urine as a gauge for hydration status: if it is darker than the light-yellow of hay you need to drink more fluid.

  1. Exercising too much

Some athletes swear by intermittent fasting as a means to improve performance, burn more fat, and even increase endurance. However, none of these benefits have consistently been backed up with controlled human studies. In fact, many observational studies of Muslim athletes during Ramadan show evidence of decreased performance (some athletes practicing IF might not maintain a fasting pattern requiring them to train during a fasted state, so these experimental differences could be important in interpreting results). Moderate and consistent exercise is encouraged for general health, but excessive exercise on top of prolonged fasting may send the body in to a state of chronic stress which can lead to inflammation, lean tissue breakdown, insulin resistance and injury.

  1. Not working with your schedule

There are different variations of IF and the only thing that makes one program more effective than the next is whether or not you can stick to it. For example, don’t decide to fast for 24 hours if you know missing your nightly family dinner will cause mental and social strain. There are many methods for reducing calorie intake for weight loss, and intermittent fasting may not be right for you if it leads to feelings of isolation and reduced quality of life.

  1. Believing that if some is good, more is better

Just because a little bit of fasting may be healthy does not mean that a lot of fasting is healthy. Going too long without food can lead the body into a state known as “starvation mode,” which greatly slows the metabolic rate, begins breaking down muscle for energy, and stores a greater majority of consumed calories as fat. Further, fasting for too long can lead to severe feelings of deprivation and preoccupation with food, culminating in uncontrollable or disordered eating behavior including binging and even anorexia. If you sense your relationship with food is becoming abnormal because of IF, make necessary adjustments and seek help if needed. 

Because IF can represent a major shift in metabolism and routine, most nutrition professionals are hesitant to recommend it as an intervention for just anyone. It is important to work with a licensed professional who understands your needs and who can help you maintain optimal nutrition, physical activity, and mental health during periods of prolonged fasting. Preliminary studies show that IF, when done right, may be a great tool for improving health, but it is not the only option to boost endurance and lose weight.

Hannah Meier is a first-year, second-semester NUTCOM student, registered dietitian and aspiring spokesperson for honest, scientifically driven and individualized nutrition. 

Book Review: The Dorito Effect–The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor By Mark Schatzker

By Hannah Meier

Grocery store shelves are teeming with products that cater to every sense of flavor. New flavor combinations seem to appear out of thin air every day. Even meat and produce sections increasingly offer pre-seasoned and flavor-enhanced options. What happened to real flavor, and what does all of this have to do with the obesity epidemic? Mark Schatzker, a New York Times food journalist, hypothesizes the connection is stronger than cayenne pepper.

PDorito Effect pictureublished in 2015 and riding the wave of other big name titles in food journalism (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Politics, and Soda Politics, to name a few), The Dorito Effect takes a similar investigational look at the food industry, with author Mark Schatzker aiming to reveal just how much we, as consumers, don’t know about what we’re eating. In The Dorito Effect, Schatzker introduces the current state of emergency regarding obesity by detailing, in quite intimate (and condescending) detail, the despair a woman named Jean Nidtech felt about her weight and her relationship with food that led her to found what is now Weight Watchers. I’m not sure how he knew Nidtech had “visions of jelly beans […] dancing in her head,” but the picture he paints is one arguing that the biggest problem with obesity is an addiction to, or an obsession with, junk food.

Despite this sweeping generalization, Schatzker does illuminate the discrepancy between Americans’ obsession with fad diets and diet foods alongside obesity’s continued rise in prevalence. He notes that we have flip-flopped between villains du jour for decades (is it the salt or the sugar that’s slowly killing you today?). We invent reformulated food products to champion this “food danger,” but have yet to turn the dial on the burden of obesity. Through Schatzker’s reasoning, something in our food environment has certainly changed, but we have taken too reductionist of an approach in addressing it. Food is complicated, he aptly admits. As “we keep mistaking the mechanism of obesity for the cause” (eating too many calories), we dig ourselves deeper into a hole filled with a surplus of nutrient-poor, flavor enhanced, unsatisfying and addicting junk food.

Schatzker summarizes what is common knowledge for many in the Friedman community—our agricultural system, by primarily emphasizing production capacity and ignoring taste, has vastly reduced the nutritional quality and flavor of plant and animal products. The nutrients and plant “secondary compounds”—bioactives as you may know them—are really what constitutes flavor in food in its natural state. He argues that our senses were developed to recognize the various flavors and aromas inherent to particular foods, and that we are “wired” to want foods that fulfill particular physiological needs within our bodies.

Citing a Utah State Professor’s experiments with goats, who developed aversions to plants with toxins and learned to prefer flavors associated with nutrients in which they were deficient, Schatzker concludes that if humans interacted with food in the same way—choosing to eat particular types of plants based on the nutritional demands of the body—obesity would not be the epidemic it is today. We have confused ourselves, he claims, by ridding our food supply of plant secondary compounds, thereby stripping it of flavor and handicapping our innate ability to recognize key qualities and self-regulate our nutrition. Instead, according to Schatzker, we never get full from manufactured, flavor-added products because they don’t truly fulfill their purpose. We keep eating and eating and have ultimately found ourselves in the deep pit of an obesity epidemic.

The idea that our bodies innately respond to our food environment is a convincing hypothesis that has some scientific backing. For one thing, it’s long been accepted that humans have this same kind of post-ingestive feedback for high-calorie foods because we evolved to seek out foods with the most energy density. Schaztker dug up a study conducted by a pediatrician in the 1920’s, who fostered 15 babies and let them grow up eating whatever they wanted from a list of 34 foods (including potatoes, corn, barley, carrots, peaches and brains… among others) and found that these babies were excellent at adopting balanced diets and choosing foods to meet their needs as they changed over time. One baby with rickets, Schaztker recounts, drank cod liver oil in varying amounts over the course of his illness until he was better.

In a brief search of the literature, I failed to find similar studies to back this up. But this may be due to the increased ethical considerations of involving humans in experimental studies over a lack of effect.

Being realistic, the type of food exposure created by the dedicated pediatrician in the 20’s isn’t what most people in the 21st century experience. We live within cultures valuing food norms and are subjected to unbridled media influence. Schatzker would argue that the relationship between nutrients and flavors has been adulterated by the twin forces of the dwindling nutritional quality of our food supply and the abundance of synthetic flavor enhancements we now associate more with meeting emotional needs than biological ones.

Schatzker goes on to spend an inordinate amount of time oscillating between revering the flavor industry for its chemical ingenious and condemning it for perpetuating the disconnect between nutrition and flavor. His sometimes unrefined writing style blames both the overweight individual (often identifying her as “fat” so-and-so) and the food system at large for failing to reverse obesity. Though he does a good job of addressing the complexity of the association between food, flavor and nutrition, he stops short of identifying other key issues that cannot be overlooked when confronting obesity. Financial instability, social inequality, food policy and availability, and cultural norms among the larger issues, with emotional and psychological influences also playing a huge role in what food ends up on individual and family tables.

Schatzker’s grand resolution at the end of the book is to entrust food technology with the task of bringing us back to foods with flavors true to their nutrient content. He believes that if food technology can harness genetic modification to improve yield and durability, surely it can modify genes that enhance nutrient quality. While certainly a good idea, will genetically modifying food to be more nutritious reverse obesity on its own? Hardly.

It will be up to experts like us to dig deeper, and tackle each level of the complex food system with the Friedman understanding that everything is connected, everything is important.

Hannah Meier is a first-year, second-semester NUTCOM student, registered dietitian, and food lover enamored with the complexity of the food system and the way individuals interact with it. Reading The Dorito Effect had no impact on her liberal use of herbs and spices in the kitchen.