The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #167 - Mark Shatzker
MARK SCHATZKER is the author of The End of Craving, The Dorito Effect and Steak. He is a writer in residence at the Modern Diet and Physiology Research Center, which is affiliated with Yale University. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Best American Travel Writing and Annual Review of Psychology. He lives in Toronto.
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12:20 - Mark's background
18:45 - the differences in beef cattle
20:50 - the best steak
23:40 - florance and modern agriculture
27:15 - the many flavor compounds found in food
33:40 - Lomi: Turn your kitchen scraps into dirt, to reduce waste, add carbon back to the soil, and support sustainability! Get $50 off Lomi at LOMI.COM/MELANIEAVALON with the code MELANIEAVALON!
37:15 - communication in food compounds
39:30 - do we have innate knowledge for nutrition?
41:30 - VOCs
43:40 - Nutritional experiments with Perceived sweetness
53:45 - do we have a drive to obesity?
58:45 - fake sugar and fat replacers
1:04:35 - can we adapt to processed foods?
1:08:00 - are whole foods blander today?
1:09:10 - taste bud turnover
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1:12:35 - The Pellgara Epidemic
1:23:30 - Pig Farming
1:26:00 - voluntary fortification
1:26:50 - niacin and fructose
1:30:15 - does more fortification equal more obesity?
1:32:45 - scurvy and cravings
1:37:00 - are multi-vitamins necessary?
1:40:45 - super tasters
Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends, welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I am about to have. Here is the backstory on today's conversation. As you guys know, I am also the host of The Intermittent Fasting Podcast. And I used to host it with Gin Stephens. And Gin would always, always, always bring up this book called The Dorito Effect. It came into play with a lot of questions that we would get with listeners about cravings and food struggles and food addiction. And she would always refer listeners to The Dorito Effect. And what's funny, and I'm embarrassed to say this, but when I heard the title, I was like "Oh, well, it's probably just talking about how processed food is addicting." I didn't know the extent to the depths of mind-blowing facts that are in that book. So, I've been wanting to interview the author, Mark Schatzker, because of how much Gin had been talking about it.
And then, our mutual friend, Marty Kendall, brought up his work, because I think he'd interviewed you, Mark, and that I had to interview. I was so excited because I've been wanting to interview. We booked the interview, I went and read Mark's newest book, which is called The End of Craving, recovering the lost wisdom of eating well, friends, we're going to talk about it in this episode. But I can't even describe the mind-blowingness of things in this book. It was so incredible that I went back and actually read The Dorito Effect and was embarrassed to think that I had ever just thought that it was just about the addiction of processed food. It is so much more than that, which again, we will get into. And then, I was like, "Well, I've got to read all of his books, because these are just so amazing." I read his book Steak: One Man's Search for the World's Tastiest Piece of Beef. I am a huge steak lover. I didn't know there was that much to learn about steak. I learned so much. Right after I finished reading it, I like had to have steak and I ate a piece of steak and it was incredible.
In any case, I've really been looking forward to this for so long. And on top of that, I just want to mention, not only are these books incredible, and science driven, and we're going to talk all about all of it, but they're also very fun reads. Mark is really funny. They're just great books. So, Mark, thank you so much for being here.
Mark Schatzker: That was a great intro. Thank you.
Melanie Avalon: Sorry, I've been waiting for this moment, because normally when I have guests on the show, especially if they have a lot of books, I tried to read as much as I can. So, I usually read one, maybe two, but I read your The End of Craving and I was like I have to read everything that this man writes ever. In any case, just to introduce you more on a personal level to our audience, what is your personal story? What led you to where you are with these books? Steak is so unique in and of itself. You traveled the world trying to find what makes steak taste good, and who has the best steak and why. And then these books like The Dorito Effect and The End of Craving with the science of food and what it's doing to us, addiction wise and obesity, why? Why are you doing what you're doing today?
Mark Schatzker: It all really starts with a moment and shortly after I graduated from university, I went down to visit my brother who was living in Chile at the time, this is I think 1996. And we went out to the beach for the weekend. And Chileans have kind of a rivalry with Argentina. So, it really says something that if Chile's, they're going to buy good steak, they buy Argentine steaks, and my brother bought a full tenderloin, Argentina tenderloin. We brought it up to the beach and we grilled it over coals. And it was to perfection, like the cliché says, nice and pinky red in the middle and that beautiful crust on the outside. And I popped a morsel of that steak in my mouth, and it's like the whole world came to a screeching halt. It was just freaking awesome. And I just asked what I thought was a simple question that really ended up changing the trajectory of my life. And the question I asked was, why does this steak taste so good?
And I went back home, I live in Toronto, in Canada, which is from the point of view of kind of agricultural economy very similar to us. And I was like "Okay, got to reproduce that steak." I thought, "Okay, it's the recipe." Chileans and Argentines, they're purists. They only put salt, maybe pepper on the steaks, but that's it. So, I went and bought a steak, put salt on it, a little pepper and it was like drinking saltwater, only meaty saltwater. You're just like, "This is not the same thing. What's going on?"
So, I start to investigate; I call the National Academies Beef Association. I go to the fancy butcher shops. They all say, "It's marbling. You want marbling. Get marbling. You want corn-fed beef." So, I do that and it's like fatty saltwater that leaves a greasy aftertaste in your mouth and I'm like, "What the hell is going on?" And I just start to research it, and research it, and I realized it's really quiet a deep story here, because everybody loves steak. Everybody loves meat, certainly. It's kind of like the king of meats. There's no chicken house. There's no pork house, but we have such a thing as a steakhouse, which is a place you go for a special occasion.
But the weird thing is you go to a steakhouse and they bring you this menu which has got maybe three or four cuts of steak. And then, they bring the wine list, which is as thick as a Bible. And they can tell you everything. This wine came from Spain and it was made in this year from these grapes. And this is how it was matured. And then, you say, "Well, where did the steak come from?" And they're like, "Well, there's a truck that drops it off every Thursday." And that's about all they can tell you. And I thought, "This is odd. We love steak, we don't know anything about it."
So, the more I researched it, the more I realized, there's actually quite a story to tell about steak because this meat that we love is going downhill in quality super, super fast. And I would say most people, even steak lovers, have never really had what I would consider to be a great steak. And I don't say that from a snobby point of view. It's kind of unjust and tragic. People need to be eating better steak. And as I researched that book, I realized that I was observing a trend. We've gotten very good at producing a lot of beef, and that has come with a consequence of quality. It's getting blander.
But this I noticed this, maybe not just the story of beef, and I started to look around and I realized this is actually happening to all the food that we grow. That we've gotten very, very good at producing lots of food. This is good. We have lots of mouths to feed, and we keep on building suburbs and all this lush prime farmland, so farmland getting scarcer, more mouths to feed. It's a good thing we've gotten better at producing a lot of food. But we have not noticed that it has come at a consequence, which is that food is getting blander, it's also losing nutritional density.
And then, I noticed, "Well, what is this thing called flavor?" Because at the same time, there's been a countertrend where processed food is getting more and more flavorful. So, flavor is being leached out of good food, and being injected into the food we shouldn't eat and this was broadly the basis for my second book, The Dorito Effect, which looks at the history of food through the lens of flavor. And it's a book that I felt was timely because we're all kind of nutritionists, we all talk about fat and carbs and calories. And we act as though nutrition starts from the neck down, that this thing that goes on in your face, then your mouth, this chewing and eating and enjoyment is just totally superfluous, has nothing to do with the real biochemical business of nutrition, which happens once the food lands in your stomach and goes into the body. And this is kind of silly, because when you think about it, every time we sit down to eat, we want to enjoy our meal, we want it to be flavorful. How is it that no one has ever talked about flavor? So, I set out in that book to talk about flavor, to try and get a conversation going about flavor, because not only do I think it's important, I think it is the most important aspect of the food we eat is the flavor, because it is how our brain engages with food.
Well, after I wrote The Dorito Effect, I started thinking more and more about how it is we've corrupted our relationship with food. On a very simple level, you can say that when we put flavorings on food, it makes people eat them. If you think of soft drinks, they're all just bubbly soda water with lots of sugar, 7-Ups, Sprite, Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, they're all the same nutritionally speaking, sugar water. Everyone says, "Oh, it's those sugary drinks." Well, is it? Because would we drink as much of this stuff if it was just bubbly sugar water? I would say no. It's the flavorings that give them their distinctiveness, that give them their character. So, I think you can say yes, these flavorings are making us eat more. And I think that is directly playing a role in the obesity epidemic.
But in the End of Craving, I want to look even deeper and say exactly what is going on. What is the brain's relationship with food? How the brain thinks about food because the brain has its own secret life about food, which is the appetite which we experience, but we can't control. In that book, I really sought to understand how the way we've changed the sensory qualities of food with things like flavorings and artificial sweeteners and fat replacers, how that has changed our relationship with food. And this is where I think I've gotten the closest to finding something kind of explosive in terms of pulling back the veil and seeing exactly what's gone wrong with food and how it has corrupted us. And this book-- I mean, all the books kind of really changed me and changed my approach. But this book, more than any of them, really changed my understanding not just a food, but of I would say of our very fundamental nature as humans. So, that's a very long answer to your simple question.
Melanie Avalon: I grew up in Memphis, and you said you went to a famous barbecue joint? Was it The Rendezvous?
Mark Schatzker: It was not The Rendezvous. I'm trying to remember now what-?
Melanie Avalon: Germantown Commissary?
Mark Schatzker: It may have been that. In fact, I think I went to more than one, but I should have kept better track. Because you think at the time, of course, I'm going to remember. It's like when you ate [unintelligible 00:09:19], you have a good idea. Like yeah, I don't remember them.
Melanie Avalon: No, I'm not surprised you don't remember. I mean, there are so many restaurants and you went to so many restaurants, I can't even imagine. Yeah, there were so many just random fun facts I learned in that book. Things like-- was it Angus beef-- One of the types of beef is literally just-- or is it black Wagyu?
Mark Schatzker: Yeah, certified Angus Beef.
Melanie Avalon: It's just what color cow they are or something?
Mark Schatzker: Yeah. 51% black hided. That basically says that 51% of the coat has to be black. Now, how would anyone measure that? They don't have some kind of fancy computer that takes a snapshot of a hide. It's just done. People look at it. Some people say they don't look at it. They're just looking at marbling. People think that when they buy certified Angus beef, that is sort of like buying a Cabernet Sauvignon, like you're getting some genetic expression of an interesting, beefy character type, that's just not true. It probably just says you're not getting a really old cow, you're getting something that's been decently fed in terms of it's going to have marbling and so forth. But it's yet another of these-- There's so much-- corruption is the wrong word. There's just so many things in the meat industry that are just so disappointing, that are just sort of empty marketing schemes that are like shiny baubles that get the consumers' attention, but I don't really think add up to a whole lot.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, it's just crazy that something so arbitrary would be used for that. I worked for a long time in steakhouses as a server and bartender. And I remember feeling almost ashamed and embarrassed because at the time I was already into health and nutrition and grass fed and all of that. We've had to do these spiels, I worked at Ruth's Chris, and Flemings and we'd have to do these feels about the finest USDA prime beef, and in my head, I was like, "I know this is so arbitrary." It doesn't say anything about the health quality of the meat or I think if it actually is good. So, it's all very, very fascinating to me.
Mark Schatzker: Yeah, when I wrote that book, everybody would always say, "What's your favorite Steakhouse?" And I would always say, "Well, it just comes down to who's got the best decor, or the decor you like the most." Because they're all serving the same steak. And everyone was like, "You can't be serious." And but no, they are. Anyway, that's the way it is.
Melanie Avalon: So, where did you have on your travels, the best steak?
Mark Schatzker: I would say I had three-- it's funny, actually, when I started that book, it was one man's search for the best. And I remember I interviewed the chef, Alain Ducasse, in Paris and he said, "You're making a mistake. There's no best. There's many bests." I said, "Well, you can take all the many bests, there's going to be one that stands out above the others." He said, "No." I agreed to disagree with him at the time. But since then, I realized that he was right, which is to say, I want to say something cliché, variety is the spice of life. But it is interesting having different things. That sounds kind of empty and dumb.
I'll put it in a different context. I was thinking about burgers lately. Recently, I became a devotee of the Smashburger. Really, really loved it and that's all the kind of burgers I was making. And then, I made kind of more of your classic steakhouse burger that was like a thicker patty, rare in the middle. And you know something? That was an awesome burger too. And I realized I liked them both, they're both different, and there's nothing wrong with that.
So to get to your question, there were three steaks over the course of that book that really blew me away. One was a highland steak that I had in Scotland. Highland is a-- if you ever seen it's that really hairy breed, it almost looks like a sheep and it's kind of red, it's got these big horns. It does well on really marginal terrain. You can stick those things on some weather-beaten island in North Scotland, and it will somehow survive, and that's what they did. And then, they would drive them into the valleys to fatten up for the market. And that's called finishing. It's when cattle put on weight. And that's really where cowboy culture came from. Cowboys are cow herders. It's not as glamorous when you think of it that way but that's what they did. And the cattle drives were just basically, cowboys, cow herders slowly herding the cattle to market and getting them fat along the way. So, I had this Highland steak in Scotland, but honestly, it was the only steak I really could cut with a fork. It was that tender, and it was just so wonderfully flavorful, and all it ate was grass. And that was a point that Angus Mackay, the gentleman I bought the steak from, made a point of telling me.
I had a steak in Argentina, Argentina is famous, and I just talked about it earlier. But Argentina is not today what it was 25 years ago. Globalization has caught up with Argentina. They've taken their very best pastureland, and they're using it to grow soybeans to fatten pigs in China. It's quite sad. Most of their beef or certainly a substantial percentage of it is now grain finished and feedlots, just like the ones we have here. And they're not using their best land to finish cattle on grass. So, it's not to say you can't get a great steak in Argentina anymore, but it's hard. But I did have one spectacularly good steak in Argentina, a really, really good steak.
And I also had just some-- and I've had more than one since at a ranch in Idaho called Alder Springs Ranch, the Elzinga Family. They grow beautiful, beautiful beef there. And that was just a wonderful steak. And I think that tells us that as bad as things have got, we still have the terrain, we still have the terroir and we still have good people that can create great beef.
Melanie Avalon: And how about Florence? Is that how you say your name?
Mark Schatzker: No, Flor-ance. So, Florence was a-- I thought it was important. A couple things. I thought, well, I should try- this whole idea of raising cattle starts to seem kind of fun, although it's a very hard work. And I also want to see if I could do something interesting. And I also liked the idea that breeds come from a certain place and they say a certain thing. Well, I'm Canadian, and there is a breed-- there's actually more than one but one of the breeds of cattle that come from Canada it's called the Canadienne, which is a Quebec dairy breed which comes originally from the north of France, the Channel Islands, very similar to a Jersey or Guernsey. These are celebrated dairy breeds. That's the kind of cow you'd want if you want to make like a real good cheese are a really good butter. But what most people don't know is that these dairy breeds produce superb beef. The problem is their carcasses are just-- their cuts just aren't very full. It's these kind of like wimpy-looking steaks that taste amazing.
So, I got a retired heifer-- I think actually I was told it was a heifer. I think it was a full-on mama cow that had just been retired, she was done. I bought two of them. And I gave them two names that I found from-- well, if you want a little bit of Canadian history, what was called New France was being populated by these fur traders from France, they needed wives. So, they rounded up a bunch of women, orphans, and widows and or I guess, and sometimes they said prostitutes, and they were called the Filles du roi, the Daughters of the King. And they brought them to New France and I looked up on the old ships manifest their names, and one of the names was Florence. So, I decided to name my cow Florence. And I raised her on a farm about a couple hours north of Toronto where I live, and they produce a lot of apples around there. I thought I'm going to try and get her fat on apple. So, I bought like all these gigantic quantities of apples and fed her and got a nice and fat and the day came to slaughter--
And I thought this was also important. I can't be an advocate of beef eating and talk about steak, when behind all this is apparent atrocity of killing the animal. So, I thought, "I got to do this." Now, it's not legal for me to step into what they call the knock box and kill her myself, but I could be right there. And really, it was a very emotional day. I remember I showed up at the barn early, early, in the morning at like 6 AM and I bought some local craft beer and I poured into this wooden bucket. And I fed it to her and she just downed it. Like a frat party, she just downed like three tins in one big gulp. And I brought her to this little country slaughterhouse. And to my great surprise, it actually wasn't this negative, horrific experience, because they don't really read-- if it's done properly, they have no idea what's going on, they just sort of walk into this room and everything turns to black. It sounds odd. I don't want to say it was uplifting, but something about it deepened my understanding of life. And I felt really strange about that.
But I remember talking to Temple Grandin, the celebrated autistic woman who's got this empathic ability to understand the life of animals, who said that's a very common experience, that people from the city who come to the country and actually see what agriculture is like. And especially those things about deaths, these subjects that we're so afraid of, when you come face to face with them, they're not as grisly and frightening and horrific as we think. So, that was a real learning experience for me, it deepened, I would say, my love of that beef, because I understood her life and I participated in giving what I hope was at least certainly a good last chapter to her life.
Melanie Avalon: Well, I will say that chapter about that whole experience, it was riveting. It was riveting. And I agree so much what you're saying about, I have not had that experience. But I think it's such a tragedy today, how disconnected we are from our food, especially with the whole conventional agriculture and there's something to-- I mean, the farthest back, I guess, would be actual hunting. And that would be really having that connection. But one step up with what you experienced, I bet if everybody had that experience, we would have a different understanding of our food every time we ate, I would think.
Mark Schatzker: I think also people naively think that it's possible to make certain food choices that there's no deaths involved, that everybody's kind of holding hands, and everything's rainbows. And that's just not the case. Life is complex and there are tradeoffs, and death is a part of life for all of us. I think what we need to get rid of is suffering. But suffering and death are two very different things.
Melanie Avalon: I agree. So, glad you mentioned the apples that you fed to her, that would be a good topic to discuss. One of the things that you talk about is the massive amount of compounds found in food like natural-- Well, I can't say natural flavors, but I'll let you talk about that. But basically, the VOCs, and the secondary compounds and all these compounds in food that gives it flavor to us. And I was wondering could you talk a little bit about those compounds, how many there are because I believe there's like thousands of them. I have some follow up questions about them. But what is going on with these compounds? What is their purpose? Is the purpose of flavor compounds and food to attract us to eating them? What is the purpose?
Mark Schatzker: Well, that's a great question. Let's start at the beginning with this idea of compounds and chemicals. And it's really interesting to think that we often say when you look at processed food, the longer the ingredient list, the worse that is. I think that's actually a pretty good rule to go by. But if you could actually see the ingredient list of something natural like a strawberry or an apple, that ingredient list would absolutely dwarf these tiny skimpy little ingredient lists we find in processed food. The number of compounds that have been found inside something as simple as a strawberry, it's in the tens of thousands. Plants are the chemical wizards of the natural world. They excel at producing compounds. And for a very long time, we had no idea what most of them were doing. We knew about the important things like sugar, and like lignin, which gives a plant structure. We would call those primary compounds because they're involved in just the basic business of life.
But then, there's these other compounds. And we had no idea what they were. They were just called plant secondary compounds that was just basically, this word secondary, just put them in-- we don't know what they're doing. Some people thought maybe these are like waste products that the plant can't get rid of, or they're just things that were produced by accident. And what we learned is that they are produced for strategic reasons. So. something like the aroma of a flower is produced for strategic reasons. It's the plant trying to attract an insect to come and pollinate it. Or in some cases, to repel. But then we get these interesting situations where a plant will produce a poison. And to most, virtually all the insects in the meadow, this poison says, "Stay away, this will kill you." But there will be a single insect that has developed a tolerance. And in fact, for these insects, that poison becomes the calling card, and that becomes the thing that they crave. Some scientists call them trigger substances, because these compounds are the ones that basically say, "Eat this." And I think it's important to understand, we're talking about insects, that might sound simple, but we are the same way. Flavor is our brain's way of understanding what is in the food we eat.
Now, that might sound really weird. But it's important to understand that there are important nutrients and food that we need. Some of them we can taste. Sugar is a really good example. There's a simple carbohydrate that we can directly detect. It hits our tongue and bang goes right to the brain, we can taste sugar. So many of the nutrients that we need are too stable to detect the vitamins, the minerals. So, flavor is the brains way of connecting the things that can detect which are these volatile organic compounds, basically aromatic vapors, the stuff the brain can smell, it attaches these, these flavor images, if you will, to the nutrients that it later analyzes. And this is how the brain uses the taste and flavor of food as a kind of nutritional map for the world.
Now, that sounds really complex, but I'll explain how it works. I spent a lot of time with a scientist named Fred Provenza at Utah State University. And he did a great experiment that really illustrates this well, he took some sheep and he made them deficient in phosphorus, which is a necessary mineral. If you don't get enough phosphorus, you're going to die. It is that important. He made them deficient and they don't feel well. They start pawing at the earth and they do weird things like they try and eat the droppings or the urine of other sheep. Which isn't stupid, actually, because that's a good way to get phosphorus if you can't get any. And then, here's what he did. He put a tube down their throat into their rumen, which is their stomach, and he would feed them a feed, that didn't have any nutritional quality, but it tasted like coconut. And when they would taste this coconut, they would get an infusion of phosphorus in their belly. Then the next day, he would give them a feed that tasted like maple. And then, they would get an infusion of water. And over time, they learned coconut equals phosphorus. So, at a later date, if he made them deficient once again in phosphorus, what would they do? They would go searching for food that tasted like coconut because the brain said, "This coconut flavor is what leads me to the phosphorus that I need." And you might say, "Okay, that sounds interesting. But what if sheep just like coconut, because coconuts delicious, who doesn't love coconut?" Well, in the other pen, he reversed it and the other pen he paired maple with phosphorus. And the same thing happened that when he would later make these sheep deficient in phosphorus, they would seek maple.
So, we're just like sheep, we have this sensing equipment, right in the middle of our face, the mouth, and the nose is our flavor-sensing equipment. And it's really, really important. To just to get an understanding of how important this is, if you think of your DNA as the instruction manual to make you, the biggest chapter is on your flavor sensing equipment, the nose and mouth. So, it must be very important from an evolutionary point of view, why would we put all that energy into making it? Why would we have this vivid experience of flavor if it meant nothing? What it means is very important, and it's equally important that we are mindful of it, and that we take it seriously.
Melanie Avalon: That is so fascinating. Okay, some follow-up questions. One, it's interesting when I was reading about all of the flavor compounds in food, I was thinking-- I mean you said tens of thousands-- or wait, tens of thousands or over 10,000?
Mark Schatzker: No, tens of thousands. And these aren't just necessarily flavor compounds. These are just compounds, some of which will be flavorful. I mean they do all sorts of things, tannins and flavonoids, and there's just lots and lots of them.
Melanie Avalon: What's interesting though is that's way more than our language because I was thinking about it, they could have an entire language they could be talking. I mean, they have enough information to talk, but not that we can read it. I would be so curious to be in the mind of these plants and wondering what they're actually communicating if that's even a possibility.
Mark Schatzker: No, no, that's a sound idea with a lot of evidence for it. What we think of as flavored these volatile chemicals, volatile just means that that there's like this vapor that goes around, that is a medium of communication in the natural world. There's a compound that was discovered in the 60s, that makes berry-- it's called cis-3-Hexen-1-Ol. And it makes berry flavorings just seem more vivid, more realistic, because they're an essential part of berry flavorings. It's sort of the smell of cut grass, it smells a little bit like carrots as well. Well, the plants use these compounds as a means of communicating.
An example would be something like a cotton plant. When a cotton plant is being eaten by a caterpillar, it will release cis-3-Hexen-1-Ol. And this is an alarm compound. And what it does is it signals a bunch of parasitic wasps saying, "Help. I'm being eaten by caterpillars. Come help me." What happens is this compound, this alarm goes up, the wasps sense it, they're like, "There's caterpillars." And they go and inject their eggs in the caterpillars, the eggs hatch, and literally eat the caterpillar from the inside, and thus kill the predator that's eating the cotton plant or the corn plant. So, what we think of as flavor, these are chemical compounds that are a currency of information in nature. And I would say they are the same thing with us. What signals to an insect that there's caterpillars afoot to us will signal there is nutrition afoot.
Melanie Avalon: All of that DNA and that information, and even thinking about a language, you just talked about the experiment where the pigs learned that phosphorus was associated with these different flavors. But are we innately born with any ideas about these flavors? Like, can we crave something we've never had?
Mark Schatzker: That's a really interesting question. And it's something that's debated in science, like these nature-nurture things. I mean they're very difficult to study. One of the reasons it's challenging to study is because you're exposed to the flavors of the food that your mother was eating while you're in the womb in the amniotic fluid. So, even before you're born, this will have an influence. We've studied this in humans, we've studied this in animals. Is there a hardwired nature to this? Or is it all learned? It makes more sense for it to be learned. It makes more sense for you to be born into a world where there can be any number of chaotic things going on, you can learn. Now, you might think, "Well, wouldn't it be great if you just entered that world with a cheat sheet?" It would be but what if things change in the world, then you're born with the wrong set of instructions? I have a feeling if we ever truly understand it, we're going to find out that it's a bit of both, or that it's is going to be something like language, where language is learned. But there is a hardwired kind of internal grammar to how language works. And I think the same thing will be true of flavor, that although there's an extremely strong learned component, that there is a certain way that it works.
Melanie Avalon: Okay. Yeah, my closest experience to it personally that I can think of is I went through this period of time, where I was having a lot of health issues. And I woke up one day, and I was like, "I need beet greens," like I was craving beet greens. And I don't think I've ever had beet greens before. And I remember I went to the grocery store, and I got the beets, but they had cut off all of the greens. And I was like, "Where do I get the beet greens?" and they just looked at me like I was crazy. They're like, "We cut it off for a purpose." I was like, "But I want the leaves."
Mark Schatzker: It was funny though. In Germany, they love the beet greens, for example, and we cut them off. It's weird. So, one man's garbage is another man's treasure, as they say.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, but I just remember thinking, "Why am I craving that's when I don't remember, having had it before?" So, it's just so fascinating to me. Another question related to all of this, one of the compounds you talked about are these VOCs, was it volatile organic compounds?
Mark Schatzker: Volatile organic compounds, which just means an organic chemical that you can smell. It's sort of like a vapor in the air. It's volatile, it's not stable.
Melanie Avalon: And you talk about their effects on perceived sweetness and how our perception of sweetness of natural food doesn't always correlate to the actual sugar content, because these VOCs can make it taste sweeter or less sweet.
Mark Schatzker: Yes, so this was some really interesting research that was done at the University of Florida on tomatoes. And what they found-- this was some work that was done by Harry Klee and a woman named Linda Bartoshuk, and others, a whole team of great researchers. What they found is that there's about 26 volatile organic compounds, scientists just call them "volatiles", that contribute to what we call the liking score of a tomato. If they are there in the right amount, you bite into that tomato and it's like, "Oh my God, that's just such an amazing tomato." If they're not there, that's just a like a bland tomato. And what's interesting is that this can also affect our experience of how sweet that tomato tastes independent of the sugar. Now, the tomato is going to have some sugar in it. But it can improve the flavor so much that it's almost like the enjoyment leaks into our experience of the sweetness and makes it seem sweeter than it actually is.
Melanie Avalon: That's just really fascinating. Actually, I connected you to my friend, Bill Tancer. For listeners, I'll put a link in the show notes of both Bill's interview and Marty Kendall's interview. But the reason I thought of him immediately with you is, because he runs Signos, which makes CGM, continuous glucose monitors, accessible to the general public. And we had had this really great conversation where he had done tests on every variety of apple that he could find, to see how it measured on his CGM. And he was talking about how the CGM didn't always match-- like the blood sugar spike didn't always match his perception of sweetness. And so, I was emailing him, because I was like, "I'm reading this book, and maybe it's because of these VOCs." But in any case, another question that relates to all of that is you talk about the work of, I forgot her first name, but is it Smalls?
Mark Schatzker: Oh, Dana Small. Yes, Dana.
Melanie Avalon: This study that she did, where they had drinks that tasted like they had a different amount of calories than they actually potentially did have. And she used maltodextrin, which we can't taste to create the sweetness, and then sucralose, I think, to make the perception of sweetness, yeah. So basically, there were like five drinks, and they ranged in calories-- Or she did two different experiments. But it was experiments where the drinks had a certain amount of calories, and they either did or did not taste like what it was. So now, I'm creating this huge picture, and I have a lot of questions about it. And it does relate to what I was just talking about. What happens when we taste something, like a drink, today that does not match what we think it tastes like, sweetness wise?
Mark Schatzker: Yeah, I'll frame this, because this is a really important experiment, I mean, super important. And this was something I wrote about The End of Craving. And I say that just to give the context is this is the book I was trying to figure out exactly how it is the sensory tinkering, what is the effect that it's having on the brain? This experiment began with what was a pretty simple question. Dana Small, who's a neuroscientist at Yale, she wants to know is it possible to create a drink that is just as rewarding but has fewer calories? Which is sort of the dream of things like artificial sweeteners, create that flavor experience, that taste experience, but none of the calories. Wouldn't that be a great thing if we could do that? The question is, how do you test that?
And this is what makes Dana such an interesting scientist. As she came up with, she created five drinks, and she used the artificial sweeteners, sucralose, to make them all equally sweet. They all tasted like they had about 75 calories worth of sugar in them. She then used a tasteless manmade, human-made carbohydrate called maltodextrin to give each different drink a different calorie payload. So, one drink has zero calories. One had, I think, 37.5, one had 75, one had 112, and one had 150. Each of these drinks, they all had the kind of distinctive color and flavor. And she gave them to a bunch of subjects and said, "Just take these drinks, and just take them home and drink them."
And what happens is their brain, your brain is constantly learning. What we think of as flavor is information. Your brain logs it. Every time you eat or drink something, your brain is creating a log. And she brought them back in and she put them in the brain scanner to measure the response in their brain to see what would happen. And this is where things get interesting. What do you think is going to happen? Is the brain going to say, "I liked to all those drinks equally," because they were all equally sweet and sweetness is all the brain cares about? Or is it going to be that 150-calorie drink because the brain is an analyzer, and they might have tasted all the same sweet, but the brain knew that one of them packs more calories than the others?
Well, the response is just sort of a real head scratcher. It turned that the 75-calorie drink right in the middle, not the one with the least not the one the most, but the one right in the middle, got the biggest brain response. It's like the other ones just didn't get-- like almost no response at all. It was really strange. It was so odd that Dana Small did the experiment over and it happened again, she's like, "What is going on?"
So, the next thing, she puts her subjects in an indirect calorimeter. This is a device that measures the thermic effect of food. So, when you consume calories, you start to burn calories just processing those and you can measure that. The more calories you consume, the bigger the thermic effect. One day, a young woman in her 20s comes in and she drinks the 75-calorie drink. And just as you'd expect, there's this beautiful little plume of heat, everything's gone just as it should. A few days later, she comes in and drinks the 150-calorie drink. Well, there should be a larger plume of heat because there were more calories. There's no heat. The metabolic response is flat. This just makes no sense. This is contrary to what all the textbooks teach you about the physiology of how calories are processed in the body.
And Dana is trying to figure out what is going on, and then it hits her. It's the number 75. Because the drink that was metabolized properly, and the drink that got the biggest metabolic response-- sorry, that got the brain response, that got the brain excited was the 75-calorie drink. And let's remember, those drinks also tasted like they had 75 calories. This was the drink, where the taste matched the calories. That drink was matched. All the other drinks were mismatched where the perceived calories, the sweetness, which is a perception of caloric intensity, did not match the calories that were delivered.
And this was a huge moment for Dana and for all of us, because she realized that the sweet taste isn't just this sort of frivolous, like, Oh, I like that." It is information. It is telling the brain crucial information about the nutritional content of the food that has been delivered into the body. And when that information is sound, everything works perfectly. The calories are metabolized properly, the brain develops a response. When that information is incorrect, it all just gets hung up and goes squirrely. The calories aren't metabolized properly, the brain doesn't respond to it properly. She did further experiments and found that you start to get conditions that look like metabolic disease as far as insulin resistance. She did an experiment with adolescents and she actually had to stop that one in its tracks because she drew blood from three of the subjects early on, and they were already looking like they are prediabetic.
This tells us that this thing called sweetness is crucially important. This is information and it also tells us the accuracy of that information is important. Because now we have to pan back and think about this in an evolutionary context. The senses that we have for flavor, for sweetness, for fat, up until about 60-70 years ago, these were all really stable. Generally speaking, if something tasted sweet, it had calories. If it tasted sweeter, it had more calories. There are things like those tomatoes but where you can see a little bit of divergence. But generally speaking, sweetness was a really good indicator of the calories you're getting. Well, it's only been in the last handful of decades that we started to create things like artificial sweeteners, things like xylitol, saccharin, sucralose. We started to think we can fool this dumb brain of ours and let it think it's getting sweetness, but we're so smart, we're actually going to deliver fewer calories.
We created fat replacers in the late 80s. Everybody remember it? Well, maybe not everybody. They're not as old as me. But we start to get this low-fat craze and you start to get diet this and lite salad dressings and lite mayonnaise. Well, how was that created? It was created by food scientists creating fat replacers. These are compounds that create the experience of rich, delicious fat in the mouth, but deliver just dribbling of calories. Well, if your brain's a moron, and it's just on this lifelong quest to just stuff itself full of calories, this is a really good idea, just fool that idiot of a brain. But if it turns out your brain is smart, and it's really fixated on measurement, this is going to backfire. Because your brain is going to say, "Okay, I thought I was getting calories because it tasted sweet and I didn't get calories. But then the next day, I thought it was getting calories, and I did get calories. And then the next day, I thought I was getting fat, and I got fat. But then the day after that, I thought I was getting fat and I didn't get what I thought." Well, what this creates is what's very known simply in psychological circles as uncertainty. Another word for it is reward prediction error. That means the reward that was predicted by the brain did not arrive.
And then, we ask a simple question, well, how does the brain respond when the reward it predicted didn't get it? And what does the brain do? It gets hypermotivated. It says, "I didn't get what I think I was going to get. So, I'm going to work extra hard to get that because I want to get what I think I need." We have to understand as an evolutionary context, something as important as calories, if the brain doesn't get what it thinks it's going to get, it has to work harder to get it. Otherwise, it risks suffering a loss. And if it keeps on suffering loss, it's going to die. So, evolution didn't craft us to be kind of on the road to obesity, constantly shoving food in our face. What it did craft us to do is to respond to uncertainty with excess motivation. So, we have created a sensory environment where our food is giving us all sorts of inconsistent signals, where we think we're getting calories, and sometimes we get them. Sometimes we don't, sometimes we get even more. The way the brain responses with excess motivation. We want to eat more calories than we need, because we've sort of goaded ourselves, we've whipped ourselves into this sort of frenzy of craving calories.
This is exactly what we see when we look at the brain scans of people with obesity. The knock on people with obesity is that they indulge in pleasure too much and this is wrong. Obesity is not characterized by an excess of pleasure. What it's characterized by is an excess of wanting, a desire for calories. If you take two people, someone who's trim, and someone who's obese, if you give them a milkshake, everyone thinks, "Oh, the obese person, they're going to take a sip milkshake and just lose themselves and just slip up the whole thing because they can't-- they just lose themselves in the pleasure." Not true. What we find is when it comes to actual pleasure impact, it's the trim person who enjoys the milkshake more. Where we see the difference with the person with obesity, it's when they see that milkshake, they go, "I got to have that thing that looks amazing." So, they get in the cycle, where the milkshake looks amazing. It fills them with thoughts of delicious milkshakiness, and then they take a sip, and it's like, "Oh, that wasn't as good as I thought." So, they take another sip, and it wasn't because they thought, so it's this. So, it's this miserable state of affairs where you're craving food, but the food that you eat never delivers the pleasure that was promised.
Melanie Avalon: There are so many paradigms shifts here. First of all, especially in the world, the holistic health and the paleo movement, and the whole low carb the whole all of this world, the obesity the literature, we often say that humans are driven to become fat, because evolutionarily, we had to stock up for times of scarcity.
Mark Schatzker: That's flat out wrong. And it's wrong in so many ways.
Melanie Avalon: That's just such a paradigm shift, because that is literally what everybody says, but it's so much more nuanced based on what you just said. Okay, basically, it's not that we are stocking up all the time for this scarcity that might happen. It's that our food today is so confusing and not matching up what we think it's going to have that it puts our bodies into a state of then needing to stock up because it doesn't know if it's going to have food.
Mark Schatzker: Yes, that's it. This idea that we are kind of born, we emerge from the womb craving more calories than we need, that's wrong for a bunch of reasons. One of the reasons that we can see that it's wrong is that if you think back in this "state of nature," when we were evolving, if we're carrying extra weight, well, it makes much more difficult to accelerate, much more difficult to come to a stop, much more difficult to turn quickly. So, that means it's a lot harder to catch prey, it's also much easier to become prey, and you are a plumper, more luscious prey when you're carrying extra weight. But there's an even bigger reason why this doesn't make sense. And that is because if you live in a calorie-scarce environment, where it's just not a lot of calories around, it's unpredictable, if you're carrying extra calories, you have to expend extra calories just to lug all that weight around. So, you're carrying this kind of insurance, that means you've had to eat, it's like you're paying really, really high car insurance, you have to make more money to pay off that insurance. It's the same thing. If you're carrying around all these extra calories, you have to eat extra food just to lug around those calories. It's a really inefficient approach to this whole idea of this idea that there's a calorie scarce environment. It doesn't make sense.
I mean, just look at photos from the 70s. I'd love to do this. Find photos from the 60s or 70s with people shopping, or here's a good one. Look at Woodstock, that massive concert they had in upstate New York. Or look at people at a beach holiday. Every buddy is skinny. It's so funny to look at and to see like, "Oh my God, everyone is skinny." If we were on this lifelong quest to stuff our faces, what was going on in the 70s? It was right after that, that this sort of obesity epidemic ensued. But before that, we weren't sitting shoving food in our faces. Things were working properly. We were in, I would say, a healthy state of equilibrium with our food environment. And since then, things have gotten way out of control.
Melanie Avalon: It's a two-parter because, one, the uncertainty is just making us want more and consequently, eat more. But then, those experiments that Dana did, which I almost don't believe them. I mean, basically this idea that--
Mark Schatzker: She didn't either. At first, she didn't believe it either. She's like, "This can't be right." She repeated them because she was like, "Whoa, this this can't be real."
Melanie Avalon: It's funny, because I told you before we were recording that I keep mentioning your book on The Intermittent Fasting Podcast and the first time I brought it up, I was like, "I just read this part of the book," and I said on the show, I was like, "I haven't actually went and read the study yet. So, I don't know if I believe this, but this is what he says." And then I actually did go and read the study. The part about that study that is just so, so, crazy is you would think-- because I think for the second part of the arm, for the energy expenditure, the metabolic reward part where they're measuring the metabolism, I think she just used three drinks. You would think that regardless-- even if your brain was thinking it was a different amount, you would think you would at least burn what your brain thought was in it. But she found that when it had way more than what the brain thought or even less, the brain just didn't burn any, like it just would shut down.
Mark Schatzker: It just threw its hands up and said, "I don't know what's going on," which is interesting. Yeah. Something they're looking into that maybe it has to do with the rate of gastric emptying the physiology of how food is processed in the gut and by the brain and with hormones, it's so complex that there's just a lot that has yet to be learned. But you're right, that's what she found. When you got this mismatch, it just sort of threw his hands up and said, "I don't know what's going on."
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, on the graph, the drink that closely matched what the person thought was in it, their metabolism went up. So, they were burning calories. But for the drink, that was way more, it was similar to the drink that was way less. That really makes you wonder, when we have foods--
Mark Schatzker: Well, yeah, what happened to those calories? If I didn't burn them, where are they? And we don't know. We think they probably wind up in the liver or something like that. But it's not a good state of affairs.
Melanie Avalon: And it also makes you wonder, because there are a lot of foods today that aren't necessarily sugar free, but they'll use like stevia or something, and they'll make it like half of the sweetness. It makes you wonder you might think you're lowering the sugar and processed food, but it might have a metabolic effect that we're not aware of where we're actually--
Mark Schatzker: That's a really good point. And this is a turn that the food environment has taken recently. For a long time, there were foods that were artificially sweetened. It was like regular Coke and Diet Coke. One had lots of sugar, one had none.
Melanie Avalon: And now there's the middle.
Mark Schatzker: Now we're in the middle, which I think is much more dangerous, because-- and what's really done it is-- this isn't the sole reason but one of the big contributing factors are these nutritional info panels, which I'm not against, but let's face it, most people have no clue how many calories they burn a day. So, what do they do? Let's say they're comparing two food items. One has 120 calories per serving one has 80 or 95. And they think, "Well, I'll take one that's 95," because everyone's been taught that they have to be mortally afraid of calories, even though you need calories to exist. What that does is the food makers aren't stupid, they start to see like, "Okay, everybody's looking at the nutritional info panel. They're all going for lower calories. We know if we only use artificial sweeteners, it's going to have kind of a weird aftertaste, it's going to taste a bit fake. So, let's just mix it up. We're going to use half the amount of sugar, three quarters amount of sugar, and we're going to dump in a little sucralose, maybe some Ace K, maybe some stevia," stevia because it comes from a plant that everything from plant is pure and wholesome, not true, but anyway. And people don't realize that there's all these products now that are intentionally mismatched, where the perceived sweetness does not match the calorie payload.
But we need to pull back for a second because I use sweetness as the example because that's where Dana Small has done this great research. But sweetness is just one way that our food is giving us mixed signals. There are so many others. There's a family of additives called fat replacers. I talked about the low-fat, lite. In the 80s and 90s, these were used for things that were lite or low fat. But the food manufacturers have wisened up and are like, "Well, actually, everybody's kind of freaked out about calories." So, they're putting this stuff in everything. I even found them in cream, in whipping cream. I want to buy whipping cream because I like to bake, my kids like to bake and I'm looking there's fat replacers in them. There are fat replacers in microwave pizza. There's fat replacers-- they're in yogurts that look ordinary and wholesome. And you look at the ingredient list, you're like, "What is this doing here?"
And part of the problem is artificial sweeteners, they're single compounds and they have words that we recognize like stevia, aspartame, sucralose. The fat replacers are much more complex. To create this illusion of fat, you need like four or five things. They're called combination systems. And they have names that don't really frighten us they have names like carrageenan, and one of them is called milk protein. Well, the industry term or the interesting brand name for this substance called milk protein is called simplesse.
And this was discovered in Canada, I think it was 1978. A scientist working for a beer company. He tried to turn whey-- that's the stuff that's leftover when you make cheese. You got your curd, that becomes the cheese and you got whey which is this liquid stuff. He tried to turn that into a gelatin. And what he got was the Styrofoam-like material that tasted a bit like cream cheese or cheesecake. And what he found was it was tiny, tiny little balls of protein that were sort of tickling the nerves in your mouth and creating this-- your brain's like, "Hey, that seems like fat." It mimicked the sensation of fat. So, it was bought by NutraSweet. They released it as an additive called simplesse, of course, you never see that ingredient panel. food scientists refer to it as a micro articulated protein. You don't see that in the ingredient panel. You'll see something called whey protein or milk protein, which sounds like cheese. It sounds like it came from a farm, milk protein, that sounds good, right? This is one of the reasons that people are totally unaware that these things are being added to all sorts of fruit.
Fat replacers are another way, so much of the processed food we eat has got these sensory signals that diverge from the nutrition. There are also things like emulsifiers and these are done so that-- there's all sorts of things you do to food when you process so it doesn't separate. So, if you make chocolate milk isn't separate so you've got the chocolate on the top and the milk in the bottom. These things also have a sensory effect.
So, essentially, there's been all these studies that have come out that are showing that processed food, ultra-processed food really is different people do seem to eat more of it and the way the body reacts to it is different. And the question is, what is it about processing? It's not something about being in a factory that messes up food, what is it? My thesis is, it's when the sensed nutrition deviates from the actual nutrition, that we really start to run into problems. And this is a characteristic of the modern food environment. This happened very rarely up until about 50 years ago when we started to develop technology that really started to alter the sensory aspects of the food that we eat. Which is just to say how it tastes, how it smells, the flavor and the taste. That is what we've changed in food. And that is what is confusing our brains.
Melanie Avalon: You talk about just how smart our brains are with normally figuring all this out. I had never thought about this before, but you're talking about the role of these fake fats and such. You talk about how butter, like real butter, for example, tastes like or feels heavier than water, but it's not. And I was like, "Oh, that's so true."
Mark Schatzker: There's a whole separate universe for food because we talk about foods being light, and foods being heavy. While we talk about something that's really rich with fat, let's just say you put like a tablespoon of butter in your mouth, we'd say that's really rich, right? Well, you put like half a cup of water in your mouth, you say, "Well, it's light. It's empty. It's nothing. It's just water." Well, you put that butter in the water, it will float. So, in the world of physics, butter is lighter than water. But your brain is so smart that in the world of your mouth, those roles just swap and your brain is like "No, it's the butter that's heavy," because now it's thinking about in terms of mass, it's thinking in terms of calories.
Melanie Avalon: But there are people who do eat processed foods who seemingly don't have a problem with their weight. Can our brains evolved to know that these things are lies and then be okay with it?
Mark Schatzker: It's a good question. I think everything, there's always going to be a distribution, right? Nothing affects all people the same way. If you look at something like COVID affects some people differently than it does others. If you look at something like alcohol, it affects some people-- some people get drunk really easily. Some people have a great resistance. Some people become alcoholics. They're more prone to alcoholism than others. So, everything affects people differently. So, you're always going to find that there's like a curve or distribution. I think also, and this is where things start to get interesting, I think when you talk about uncertainty, I think that uncertainty in life itself can kind of gang up with uncertainty that's in your food environment.
So, if you think of something like, if you take a teenage girl, and let's say her parents get divorced, and she starts a new school, and she's being bullied, these are all aspects of uncertainty that are negative that cause real anxiety, and some people say that causes people to emotionally eat. Well, what if you also couple that with a food environment where she thinks she's getting calories where she's not? I think these things blend together. That's the thing that's so complex with psychology. These things become woven together in a way that can be really difficult to kind of tease them apart. But I think it all does work in concert, which is part of what makes the world we live in so complex that we can see broad trends, but then on an individual level, it's really hard to predict exactly who's going to get affected by what, in which different way.
Melanie Avalon: Now, I can finally go back to the initial-- The reason I brought up this whole topic, we were talking about the VOCs. Do we not encounter this uncertainty with real foods, like for the example of the VOCs in things tasting sweeter than they actually are?
Mark Schatzker: No, I don't think so. Well, let's put it this way. Let's say that were true, that there's some a little bit of mismatch in the in the natural world, it's just a little bit. It's just the case of certain fruits in a particular type of season when they're really good. There's a bit of mismatch happening. I think the brain can handle some. You're talking in a food environment where there's a little bit here and there versus a food environment where it's just utter total chaos where nothing is what it seems. But I think the case of what's called sweet-enhanced volatiles is different than the mismatch that Dana Small was studying. Because I think what the scientists who've studied that haven't yet shown is that there's a disentangling the pleasure of that tomato from the sweetness. It's almost like that tomato tastes so good that the pleasure spills over into the perceived sweetness. But I think it's a very different kind of difference in perception than you get with something like stevia or sucralose or aspartame. They both deal with sweetness, but very different.
Melanie Avalon: Okay. Yeah, that would make sense.
Mark Schatzker: If you talk about something like fat replacers, a cynic say, "Okay, well, what about like a classic French gravy where you make a roux where you melt butter and then you put flour in and then you add liquid and this creates a thick sauce. Well, isn't that like a fat replacer? Isn't that confusing your brain?" Okay, maybe it is. But 50 years ago, the food environment, okay, you had a few sauces here and there. There was a little bit of mismatch happening but that just cannot be compared to the world that where young people are being thrust into where there's this long list of additives, which is confusing the brain in every possible way.
Melanie Avalon: And also, with this evolution of liking versus wanting, do you have thoughts on the ratio or the effects of how much-- because you were talking earlier about how we try something that we want, and then it doesn't taste as good as we think it does. Do you know to what extent that is from the actual food itself, like all the food today, and then maybe the food actually becoming nutritionally blander versus us being so exposed and overflavoring, and we can maybe talk about spices, like putting lots of spices and just not being used to it? So, by comparison things taste blander compared to like modern food and maybe it's not that bland, or is the food actually blander today, like whole foods?
Mark Schatzker: Oh, whole foods are blander today. I think that's why there's chefs like Dan Barber that are working so hard to develop varieties of wheat and vegetables that have flavor back in them. And I talked about a scientist at University of Florida, Harry Klee's trying to get flavor back into tomatoes. But as far as the situation we get into where the brain gets coaxed into this desire for food, I think that is the effect of processing that's learned over time. When you're exposed to it for long enough, it induces this response.
Melanie Avalon: You often talk about how fast the tastebuds turnover, do you know how long that takes?
Mark Schatzker: Oh, no, this is one of those-- Yeah, because if you burn your tongue, it's months before you can take-- it happens pretty quickly.
Melanie Avalon: I don't know if you know, do you know if the actual literal turnover of the tastebuds has any effects with learning or unlearning our wanting?
Mark Schatzker: I don't think so. I think it's the foods. Yeah.
Melanie Avalon: If listeners minds are not blown already, there's something else you talk about in the End of Craving that is affecting all of this. And it's not flavors, and it's not sweeteners, and it's not fat replacers. It's something that-- Oh, my goodness, I have to say when I was reading the End of Craving, it reads like a mystery novel. I literally wrote down, "This feels like a thriller." Like reading the opening-- I don't know if it was the opening chapter, but when you're talking about the pellagra epidemic, and then how Italy compares today to the US. There wasn't really a question there. But what did you find with the pellagra epidemic and the implications of that?
Mark Schatzker: Yes. I will preface all this by saying it's leading to a place that on the surface sounds totally nuts. And for so long, I resisted it. I was like, "This can't be right." And eventually, the evidence became so overwhelming that it's-- And I've shown it to many scientists, and I'm actually working with a scientist at Mount Sinai in New York City to do some pilot investigation with rodents, okay, but I want to talk--
I'm going to set this all up by talking about Italy and by talking about the fact that we tend to be very suspicious of pleasure in North America. We say if it tastes good, spit it out. We say food is addictive, because it tastes good. And that, in fact, is a mystery of addiction. Addictions is typically a situation where the pleasure is all drained from an experience. But I want to talk about Italy. If delicious food is what makes us eat, well, then Italy is a particularly interesting place. Northern Italy, in particular, a city called Bologna, that might ring a bell because we've all heard of baloney. Some people call it Bologna. Well, that's where it comes from, comes from Bologna, where it's called mortadella. And it looks a little bit like good old-fashioned American baloney, but it's got these big cubes of white fat that you can actually see.
And the citizens of Bologna are food obsessed. They have a chamber of commerce, where they have a repository of official recipes. If you're going to make something like lasagna, you have to make it this way. If you make something like tortellini, you have to make it this way. They love food. They have two groups that almost look like religious orders. One is called the Apostles of Italiatella, and they're talking about their favorite noodle, which looks like fettuccine, and it's made with the two substances we've been living in fear of, eggs and flour, carbs and fat. And the other is a group of men, and they're talking about opening up to women that worship tortellini, which is this beautiful little dumpling filled with mortadella and pork and cheese that they put in this broth that must be made from a barnyard chicken that is just absolutely delicious. Well, everybody knows Italian food tastes great. Italy is the number one destination in the world for food tourism. People fly there by the planeload just to eat what the locals eat. They just want to sit next to a local and say, "I'm going to have what that guy's having." The food is incredible. I've been there. It is like that steak I had in Chile, a life-changing experience.
Well, if delicious food were the cause of our problems, you would expect that the citizens of Bologna would be literally ultra-fat. What we see is the very opposite Northern Italy. The Northern Italians are even skinnier. their southern Italian brothers and sisters. And in Southern Italy, they actually eat a diet closer to the Mediterranean diet. More olive oil, more fish, more beans. Northern Italy, it's like salami and cream and cheese and pasta and pork fat. It is rich, rich food. And yet, they are the skinniest in the Western world. They have a rate of obesity that is less than 8%. They're eating this rich, incredibly delicious food and they are skinnier than Americans were in the early 1960s. I mean, it doesn't make sense. This tells us something, we're not getting something right.
So, this led me to go, "Okay, what's going on with Northern Italy?" And I start to see what are the differences. And I start to turn back the clock, and what I actually found was that there's a point of great similarity. And that is little more than 100 years ago, Northern Italy was very, very much like the American South. They were both backward. They were both very agricultural kind of economies. And they were both suffering from plagues of a disease called pellagra. These were epidemics, which is to say they were spreading, they were uncontrolled. It appeared first in Italy. And it almost always starts with a farmer, usually the farmer's wife. And it'll start with this like the skin scale in the back of their hands, and it would spread. It would happen in the spring and would go away. It'd come back the next year, and it would spread. Eventually, their hands will become hideous. And they would get horrible diarrhea, they'd lose their appetite, they'd become sort of delirious, demented, they would attack children, and then they would die. And nobody knew the cause. It's sort of similar to the epidemic of obesity, that you had all these experts that were sure that they knew what the problem is. Someone said it's because people live too close to a river, or they thought there were spores that get into their blood and ignite. Or they thought they were eating rotten food. They had the most bizarre theories.
Well, then a 1904 pellagra shows up in Georgia. And just like Italy, it starts to spread, it becomes a pandemic, it starts to spread from state to state. And there was all sorts of theories in America. They said it was carried by sandfly. Some people said, "No, it's carried by mosquitoes." All the scientists were sure they knew it was right, and they kept fighting amongst each other. And meanwhile, it's spreading, nobody can stop it.
But finally, an epidemiologist named Joseph Goldberger is dispatched to Tennessee. He goes to a sanatorium. And everyone thinks this guy's just flat-out nuts. Because he says, "Don't change a thing. Don't clean the sheets. Don't clean up that vomit in the corner. I want people to eat differently." And he starts saying people should be having milk with dinner. They should eat beans. They should have meat. They were like, "This guy's a fool. It's clearly an infectious disease." And low and behold, six months later, there's only one case of pellagra left. He thinks it has to do with food.
He actually manages to create pellagra. He takes a group of prisoners and he puts them on a diet that he says will cause pellagra and this is a diet of what poor people like back then. It was cornmeal, grits, the Italians call it polenta, pork fat, and molasses. Very calorie-rich diet. And he succeeded. This pellagra squad as it was known in the in the prison developed pellagra. And this was a crucial development in the history of nutrition because we began to understand that there are vital elements in food that are necessary for survival. They were initially called vital amines and then they became known as vitamins. The lack of the vitamin causing pellagra was what we call niacin or vitamin B3.
And this is where stuff starts to get really interesting is when you look at how America approached nutritional deficiency, and how Italy approached it. America put on its lab coat and was really smart and said, "Well if the people need niacin, let's give them niacin." If they don't know what to eat-- and what they saw was basically a flaw that people, A, don't know what to eat. And B, well, food, kind of you can't rely on it. It doesn't have what you think it might have. So, they started putting niacin along with thiamin and riboflavin, two other B vitamins. First, it was put into white bread, and then it starts to spread into pasta into rice into flour. And they added iron as well. This is called enrichment, which is the same as fortification but it's called enrichment when the government does it. It's called fortification when a company does it. And it worked beautifully. I mean, pellagra, the cases just fell off a cliff. Almost overnight. pellagra disappeared, poof, gone. What an amazing marriage of science and public policy that would define the coming 20th century, this powerhouse of science, lifting the veil on how food and the body interacted.
When you go and look at what Italy did, and it's almost hilarious to compare because the king put his half-witted nephew in charge of nutrition and public policy, because they didn't say "Oh, let's start putting niacin in the polenta." They said things like, "Well, maybe we should cook bread in communal ovens," and, "Oh, we should tell poor people that they should raise rabbits," because rabbits are a cheap form of meat. People would even say, "Well, if you have pellagra, what you should have is a nice glass of red wine," which is just hilarious. It just seems so characteristically Italian, those Europeans there's, a beauty to it, but there's just kind of inherent stupidity, isn't there? Well, maybe not because they didn't know this at the time, but telling someone to drink a glass of red wine was actually a pretty good idea, because the wines back then were unfiltered and they had lots of yeast. Yeast is packed with niacin. If you have pellagra, drinking a glass of red wine was actually a really smart thing to do. Not that they would have known the scientific reasons for it. But what's so interesting with the Italian experience is that they also got rid of pellagra. Didn't happen as quickly. But the Northern Italy ate its way out of a vitamin deficiency.
Well, let's fast forward for the clock 100 years, and wow, do things ever look different because the American South graduated from one nutritional disaster to another. It went from being the pellagra belt, as it was once known, now it's called the obesity belt, or the diabetes belt. And the lesson of the South would seem to tell us, what we think we know is that you just can't win with food. You're either going to starve or you're going to fulfill your evolutionary destiny and just stuff your face and eat yourself into an early grave.
Well, then you look at Italy and you say, "Hold on a second. Look at these people. They're eating this incredible pasta. They're eating this wonderful risotto. They're eating these great salumis and these incredible cheeses. They're eating food that is so delicious. Everybody wants to travel and eat the delicious food that they're eating. And their rate of obesity is less than 8%. What on earth is going on? And then, I asked the question, "Well, could it have something to do with putting vitamins in your processed carbs?" And this is where things start to sound nuts. It's like vitamins, are you serious? You're going to infuse vitamins which have no calories, vitamins have no calories, you're going to accuse them of playing a role in the obesity epidemic? Well, the answer is, yes, I am. Because I want us to look back at that pellagra diet.
Remember, I talked about what those prisoners were fed? They were fed grits, that's cornmeal, pork fat and molasses, carbs, fat and sugar. It's hard to imagine a more calorie-rich diet. How is it that a person could literally starve on a diet of pure calories? Well, the answer is that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of calories. We liken calories to energy like when you plug in your phone and start to suck energy out of the socket. We think that's what calories are. We think calories are like the gasoline that you pump into your car. And that's not true, because calories need certain micronutrients in order to be metabolized. They need specifically certain B vitamins. Niacin is a big one. So, is riboflavin. So, is thiamine.
And where this all came together for me was when I started to look at pig farming in the 1950s. Because around the late 40s or early 50s. pig farmers knew that if you wanted to get your you know-- and what we going to remember is what does a pig farmer want to do? They want to get their pigs big and fat quickly so they can get a new bunch of piglets in there and get them big and fat quickly. The faster they can do that the faster their turnover, the more money they make. Well, back in the late 40s, early 50s, American pig farmers know you want to get your pig big and fat super quick, you feed them corn with some soy, and that's like rocket fuel. But you got to be careful, because if that's all you feed them, actually they fall off a cliff and they stop gaining and then their hair falls out and they get diarrhea and they can't walk. They would start to get a pig version of pellagra, a nutritional deficiency. They knew that corn and soy was a rocket fuel feed. But if that's all you gave them, it wasn't going to work. They had to balance the diet. So, they would send them out to pasture. Back then, all pork was pastured. They would go out to pasture. They would eat green feeds like alfalfa, which balanced the diet. They would get the vitamins and minerals they needed. So, they knew that this rocket fuel on its own needed to be balanced.
Well, the invention of vitamins forever changed everything. We talked about confinement farming CAFOs, feedlots. All of that would have never happened without the discovery and understanding of how vitamins worked. Because now you could take your pig and you could stick it behind a fence and you could give it all the corn and soy in the world, and you just dust in these B vitamins and guess what? Doesn't need the alfalfa, doesn't need the green feed. It can eat as much of that rocket fuel feed it wants and it will get big and fat faster than ever. And this changed farming. I found pamphlets from the University of Iowa where they said the pig has a reasonable ability to balance its diet, but there is a better way. This is what changed farming. They talked about optimal weight gain. How to achieve optimal weight gain? You feed your pigs processed carbs with a powdering, a dusting in of these B vitamins. That's what makes pigs get big and fat faster than ever before.
Well, pigs get big and fat really fast. So do humans. For pigs, for pig farmers, for industrial pig production. That's a good thing. I don't think it's a good thing to you eat those pigs, but that's a good thing. For humans, it's a really bad thing. Our big problem is we get big and fat too quickly. Well, what did we do? We did the same thing to our food that pig farmers did to pig feed in the 50s. We started adding B vitamins to our processed carbs. And it started with this government program of enrichment. But now, it's everywhere. In the United States, there is voluntary fortification. That means companies can pump this stuff in. Look at the side of a cereal box and look at all the vitamins. Those are being put there. They're not there naturally. They're put there for a reason because people, they just don't know better. And they look, "Oh, look at all these vitamins. This must be really healthy." My daughter bought an energy drink. It's like the worst drink imaginable. Not only was it mismatched in that it had sugar and sucralose in it, it had 200% of the vitamin B6 that an adult needs. Why would anyone need double? But we're so naive that we think, "Well, if 100% is good, 200% must be better, right?" So, we have saturated our food environment with processed carbs, with cheap calories. But we've also added in the B vitamins necessary to process those calories. The vitamins are a rate limiting step for calorie metabolism.
Niacin is particularly interesting, because you need niacin to metabolize fructose. Well, fructose is a very controversial sugar. People have written books about it. Fructose is in table sugar. It's also in high fructose corn syrup. Well, if you're going to have a diet that's really high in sugar, which is to say sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, you need to have a diet, by definition, that's high in niacin. Well, maybe it doesn't make sense that we are dumping niacin into bread, into breakfast cereal, into energy drinks, we're putting it in everything.
This is sort of the other half of the thesis is that we have not only confused the brain, make it want to consume calories, our food environment is filled with empty calories and the metabolic potential to process those in the form of those B vitamins.
Melanie Avalon: This is so crazy, so many thoughts. Do you know Bill Schindler?
Mark Schatzker: I don't.
Melanie Avalon: He wrote a book called Eat Like a Human. And I think there's a whole chapter on pellagra. Because he talks about why it even started in the first place because of the role of, such a hard word, nixtamalization. Are you familiar?
Mark Schatzker: Yes.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, he has a whole chapter on that.
Mark Schatzker: Yes, Native North Americans that the First Nations people, they would add ash or lye that they would add something to corn flour that would release-- It actually has niacin and in it, but it's molecularly bound. So, they would add some that would release it. Of course, they didn't know that it was having a molecular level. What they understood was that it made a better dough, and they preferred the taste. They had a way of doing that. But that technology was lost as the land was colonized and corn was taken as a crop and grown. So, when it was brought to the Europe, they had no idea to do that. And they were they were eating corn that had bound niacin and our bodies couldn't extract it.
Melanie Avalon: Does Italy fortify their food now?
Mark Schatzker: No, they don't.
Melanie Avalon: Wow.
Mark Schatzker: And neither does France, neither does South Korea, and neither does Japan. If you start to look at the countries that fortify versus not, you start to see there's a nice trend in terms of the countries that fortify and enrich our fat and the ones that don't.
Melanie Avalon: Did you come up with this idea?
Mark Schatzker: Yeah. It occurred to me when I did The Dorito Effect, because I was talking to Fred Provenza about how-- remember how the flavor was matched with the vitamin. And then I thought, "Well, what if it works the other way around, that putting vitamins into something is going to have an effect?" And the other reason that occurred to me is because there's this kind of lore in sort of the world of people who like natural food that they say that the feedlot diets i empty calories, that the cattle are just munching on empty corn-- excuse me, there's no vitamins. And I talked to a feedlot nutritionist. He said, "No, that's not true at all. If you don't put in the vitamins, they don't gain weight, you need--" but it's not all the vitamins, it's certain vitamins for them to gain weight. That's when I thought, "Okay, that's interesting, because that's not what people think."
In our world, we talk about people eating empty calories, you're talking about all the soda people drink. There're some people that drink like six cans of soda a day, it's nuts. And we say these are empty calories. On some level, that's true. If you have a can of Pepsi or Coke or ginger ale, it's just sugar. There's not a whole lot of micronutrients happening. So, they must be getting the micronutrients from somewhere. Because really, if our diet was just empty calories, we would be like those Southerners with pellagra. We would be super skinny and having terrible diarrhea. But the truth is we're getting enough of the calorie-metabolizing vitamins to enable obesity. So, obesity requires a certain amount of micronutrients just to be metabolically viable.
Melanie Avalon: Is it just that the vitamins are the switch that makes it possible to live on processed foods and then you gain the weight from the processed foods? Or does it also linearly track where if you add more vitamins, you get fatter?
Mark Schatzker: It's a really good question because some people use niacin as a heart medication, will get like a super, super, big dose. So, shouldn't those people become super, super, fat? I think this is complex. This is a story about the food that you're exposed to from a very young age, and it's a piece of the pie. I think if you want an obesogenic diet, you need a lot of calories. You also need the vitamins. I mean, there are obese people in Italy. It's much, much rare. It's very rare to have things like extreme obesity. Just because I think it's harder to pull off, you've got to work a lot harder to get the nutrients in your body. Whereas here, our food is just more like that rocket fuel feed by its very nature. The question is, does this enrichment or fortification, is it enough on its own? It might be in part. When they added that to the pig diet, those pigs got big and fatter more quickly. But at the same time, I think there's all sorts of other things. We're also doing things like mismatch, things like adding flavorings, if that makes sense.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, and I'd have to look at it again, but on one of the pig studies, I think it showed that the more vitamins they added, the fatter they got.
Mark Schatzker: Well, what was really interesting was there is a study I looked at where they looked at pigs in confinement, and they looked at pigs on pasture. And they had two groups of pigs on pasture, one getting what's called a mixed ration where the food and vitamins are all mixed together. And one where there was like the corn and soy in one bunk, and the vitamins and protein additives were in this other one. And then, there was alfalfa. And what they found in that one was that the pigs just weren’t really seen to eat the vitamin supplement. And they're like, "That's weird. Where's it coming from?" And the answer is the alfalfa. It's like when you enrich their feed, is sort of turned off the desire to eat the green feed the good stuff, the alfalfa/ When you didn't enrich it, which is to say, when they were just eating the good corn by itself, then it's like this desire to eat alfalfa would spring up, and they would go and eat it. I think the other thing that's troubling about this is that when we're adding this stuff to our food, it might literally be turning off this little switch to eat good stuff, because we're getting it in kind of a trick, a shortcut way. It's like a cheat.
Melanie Avalon: You also talked about scurvy, and the idea if those sailors had been given vitamins, would they never have craved fruit?
Mark Schatzker: Yeah, so this is really important, because people, if they recognize the term 'scurvy', it'll be from like a history class where we talk about British sailors, I mean, horrible, horrible experiences of the scurvy that they get on the long ocean voyages, they weren't getting enough vitamin C. And everybody always talk about the fact that gum swelled up. And that's one thing that happened, and they swell up horrifically, like their teeth would like swing in their mouth. Their old wounds that have been healed for decades would open up again. But the thing that the history books never talk about, but if you research it is that one of the very first symptoms of scurvy was a craving for fruits and vegetables, and the sailor would have dreams of gorging on fruits and vegetables only to wake up and they would start weeping when they realized it was a dream. They would look at the ocean and see these heads of coral, and their minds would transform them into cabbages and oranges.
The medical doctors back then had no clue, and they came with all these idiotic theories, but the sailors knew exactly what they needed. And when they would get into port-- there's a story of British ship, it was called the Centurion, it washed up on Juan Fernández Islands, I think it was like 1763 or something. They just had awful scurvy. They scrambled to shore, and they started eating moss and wild turnips. And they talked about how incredibly good they tasted. And of course, moss and wild turnips don't taste good if you're on all fours yanking them out of the ground. It's because their brains knew what they needed, and their idea of what tasted good adjusted to what their body needed. That's how smart your brain is. And if you let things run properly, we are perfectly enabled to nourish ourselves. But boy, have we got things screwed up in the world we live in though.
Melanie Avalon: What are your thoughts on the effects of, say, a person is not eating processed foods, they're eating a whole foods diet, but they're taking multivitamins, do you think that messes with the brain's perception?
Mark Schatzker: It's a good question and I'd say we need to do more research. But the other thing I'll say is unless your doctor has told you, you need to take a vitamin for a specific reason, like let's say you don't absorb vitamin B 12 properly, which is a problem some people have, there's no research that shows that multivitamins are in any way beneficial. And there's a lot of research that shows-- there's some research that suggests that it could be contributing to obesity with pregnant women. They did rat studies and they found that when rats were given a very high vitamin diet, their pups look good. But the rat moms never really lost the weight that they gained in pregnancy, which is a problem a lot of women find. And the rat pups, even though they looked pretty healthy when they were born, would go on to-- it's like they were doomed to become more obese.
I'll put it this way. Vitamins have this status, they're kind of the forest elves of the nutrition world. They're just seen as being benevolent and good. It's like they just want to wrap you in this nourishing hug and nothing is that simple. Nothing is by its nature, good or bad. It's all dose dependent. We need water to survive, but you can kill yourself by drinking too much water. We need calories to survive, but many people are dying today because they consume too many calories. Any drug, drugs can help you heal. If you overdose on them, they will kill you. So, everything is about dose and everything is about context. And we need to think-- Well, I would put it this way. Your brain intuitively knows how complex the food world is. I just wish if you could leave the brain to its own devices and just subject it to really good wholesome food, I think things would be much better. I don't want to make it seem as though we'd be back into some kind of paradise. And of course, there was disease and all that sort of thing. But I think that the degree that we're messing with some of the core properties of food through processing is really playing a significant role in the very disordered relationship people have with food today.
Melanie Avalon: I'm super, super curious in your book-writing process and working with your publisher and everything and coming up with a title because there's nothing in the title about this. Did you want to include anything about this in the title? The vitamins and the fortification for End of Craving?
Well, it was a difficult book to find a title for because it's so much about-- I think our philosophical approach in North America is so wrong. The fundamental difference between Italy and America is that America said, "There's something wrong with people, because they don't know what's good for them. And there's something wrong with food, because food is by its nature incomplete. So, we have to step in and fix what's wrong with food in order to curb our own ill nature. That we don't know what's good for us and by our nature, we eat too much." And that is what's responsible for so many of the technological developments of food, artificial sweeteners, fat replacers. And even I would say, this trend towards plant-based meats, which is just the latest iteration of, "We can do it better than nature," there's never been any reason to think that's true.
I think what's so interesting is if you look at the Italian approach, they didn't see food as the problem. They saw food as the cure. They said the problem is that poor people don't have access to good food. And if you look at Italy today, you'd think that they have these rules about how to make food and they have these rules if you've got a San Marzano tomato, it's got to be a certain kind of tomato grown in a certain area. And these are all kind of cute rules. And we talk about terroir, and what a great place to go and eat. But we think there's something cute about it. But the truth is it's a much, much better way of eating. I guess my outlook is that we have to understand that we evolved to eat food. And maybe one day, we'll be so smart that we can do a decent job of knocking off food, but I don't think we're anywhere close to that. And I think this idea that we can do it better than nature has only gotten us into trouble.
Melanie Avalon: Do you have thoughts on why some people have genetics or evolved to be super tasters?
Mark Schatzker: I'm a super taster. And the woman I talked about, Linda Bartoshuk, who did some of the work on tomatoes, that was her discovery. Super tasters, it's kind of a misleading term. Essentially, it just means that you have a greater sensitivity to bitterness. Some people think super tasters are like their gourmets. They just walk around and food is like a drug for them. That's not true at all. They're just more sensitive to bitter compounds. I can't stand IPA beers. They're just way too bitter for me. It's like drinking bong water. It's disgusting. I can't stand it. That's because of the bitter receptors I have. Not everybody has those. I think we'll find that there's differences in all sorts of modes of the sensory system, including for what we smell, there're just genetic differences in all of us.
Melanie Avalon: And then, speaking of taste, one of my favorite parts-- was it in it? I think it was in the End of Craving when you talk about the dinner that you had where you tried to get just basically the best flavored-?
Mark Schatzker: Oh, that was at the end of The Dorito Effect where I tried to-- yes, yeah.
Melanie Avalon: It's very rare that I laugh out loud when I'm, reading a book, there are parts of that I was laughing out loud. Like you were talking about smuggling, you tried to smuggle something over the border.
Mark Schatzker: Oh, I had to get some tomatoes from Toronto to California, because there was a guy in California growing tomatoes, but they had this historically bad year, and the tomatoes just were not ripening. So, I had to get some tomatoes from Toronto to Northern California. And oh, my God, was that impossible. Like filling out the extensive paperwork. I didn't think they're going to make it, but I somehow got them through.
Melanie Avalon: I'm just wondering into that actual dinner that you ended up having, what was that experience like? Because what is it like when we actually do seek out the food that is the ultimate in flavor and does it correlate to nutrition? And what are the effects? Like do you get fuller faster?
Mark Schatzker: Yeah, so this was a dinner that I put on that was basically to say that we can turn this terrible trend around and that we can actually grow chickens to be flavorful and we can grow tomatoes to be flavorful and we can grow strawberries to be flavorful. And we can grow better chocolate. And I got all these ingredients together, and a chef at The Culinary Institute of America, Larry Forgione, put together this wonderful meal. It's just basically to say like if we build it, people will come, that we can grow food to be delicious and wholesome and not just grow a lot of it. And I think we've all had this experience.
I think one of the problems is we have an inadequate vocabulary to talk about the way food makes us feel because some people will say Doritos are delicious, and a glass of red wine is delicious. Two very, very different experiences. One just makes you want to eat more. And one is this more immersive experience, contemplative. I think that is what food should be like. When you eat food, you shouldn't be sort of rationing, this excited, kind of, "I want more. I want to stuff my face," it should be more immersive. It should be more like the food is taking you on a journey. I mean, there's a reason we call it junk food, because on an intuitive level, we know it's junk. And we've all had that experience where you have-- like satiety. There're two different kinds of satiety, you can stop eating because you're like, "Ugh, I feel sick. I feel stuffed. This is gross." Or you can have this experience of satiety where the meal just naturally comes to an end, you've had enough to eat, you move on, it's not that you feel uncomfortable and that your gut is distended. You had enough to eat. That's an increasingly rare experience for a lot of people, but it's not to say it's impossible. We just need to eat food that nourishes us and sort of pushes the right buttons inside our body.
Melanie Avalon: Well, I think listeners can now understand why your work is just the most mind-blowing, incredible, amazing thing. Are you working on your next book?
Mark Schatzker: I'm still in the early stages of research. So, we'll see where that takes me.
Melanie Avalon: We didn't even remotely touch on everything. But was there anything else that you thought was important to share with listeners about all of this?
Mark Schatzker: I would just say it's not exactly a new message to say that everybody should eat real food. But the one thing I would add to that is eat like an Italian. Food is one of the most wonderful things there is. It nourishes us and it gives us pleasure, at least three times a day. And I think we can set the ship right by eating the kind of food we ought to eat and when food pleasures us the way it should, it's a wonderful experience. We're losing our grip on that, but I think we can get it back.
Melanie Avalon: The last question that I ask on the show, and it's just because I realized more and more each day how important mindset is, but it actually sort of relates to what you just said, because it has to do with taking in the moment and experiencing something. What is something that you're grateful for?
Mark Schatzker: I would say I'm grateful that my parents exposed me to wonderful food when I was growing up. Basically, this all started with that steak, I like eating good food. And it's a pretty selfish journey, you could say, in that regard. But it just made me ask, I think, fundamental and important question. So, I'm thankful for them for exposing me to great food and making it such an important part of my life.
Melanie Avalon: Wow, I love that. Well, thank you so much, Mark. This was so amazing. Like I said, your books are just I mean-- because I read so many books, and I love all the guests that I have on the show, but you are talking about so many things that nobody is talking about. It's just profound. Thank you so much for what you're doing. How can listeners best follow your work?
Mark Schatzker: I think reading the books. I'm on Twitter, I'm on Instagram, but I don't have a whole lot of good things to say about social media. Books are wonderful, because that's just the best medium. If you've got an important complex message, if you've really got an important story to tell, the book is the best way. I think if people are interested in the subjects, read the books. If they react the way you do, I hope it'll be something that is meaningful for them.
Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Well for listeners, we will put links to all of those books and there will be a full transcript as well in the show notes. And again, the show notes will be at melanieavalon.com/thedoritoeffect. Thank you so much again, Mark, this was amazing. I will eagerly follow all that you write and hopefully we can connect again in the future.
Mark Schatzker: That's great. Thanks so much for having me. I really enjoyed the interview.
Melanie Avalon: Thank you, bye.
Mark Schatzker: Take care.
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