In the previous post, we reviewed how our definition of “deliciousness,” which is largely determined by our taste system, has changed over time, especially in the last 200 years. Tofu was considered delicious at the end of the 18th century but today we need 130 lbs. of sugar per year to satisfy our appetite. We now eat a lot of intense tasting food because we can no longer be satisfied by natural flavors. And we become sick or obese.
But this does not make sense. Our taste buds are programmed to detect deliciousness in the nutrients that make our body stronger and healthier, not sick and unhealthy. Nevertheless, we are getting sick by following signals sent by our taste buds. Where does this disconnect come from?
It is primarily because our body, including our taste system, was programmed tens of thousands of years ago. And our body updates its program only very, very slowly. It takes long time for the OS (operation system) of our body to change to accommodate a new situation.
Figure: The transition from hunting-gathering to agriculture
In case of food, humans hunted and gathered raw food found in wild nature for about 95% of their history. Then agriculture developed somewhere around 10,000 ~ 3,000 BCE, during which period people found a way to grow staple crops such as barley, wheat or rice, and raise domesticated animals such as cows and pigs. But they had to wait for another 11,700 ~ 4,700 years to see modest amounts of sugar. Engineered and mass-produced foods are even newer. What we think of as our regular diet today has been on Earth less than 0.05% of our entire history.
It is most likely that our body system still assumes it is in the pre-industrialization era (99.95% of our history), in which food was sure to be gone before we could overeat. As has been the practice over the last tens of thousands of years, our taste buds detect deliciousness, send a signal to our brain, which orders us to eat more. Our body still believes that it is the right chain of command to help maximize our chance of survival.
But in reality, our environment has drastically changed over the last couple hundreds of years. Today the food will never run out if you have enough money. Our economic system maximizes the quantity of food production regardless of the amount of nutrients we have to ingest in order to stay fit. It has zero incentive to worry about our health.
There is no longer any relevance, nexus or connection between the supply of food – the amount of food available – and demand – the appropriate amount of nutrients we should consume. Indeed, we even changed the definition of demand to “the amount of food we want to eat.”
The reality surrounding food shows that there is now a large disconnect and disparity today between what we really need to eat versus how our economic system tries to maximize our consumption. And as the gap keeps growing wider and wider, our body system becomes overwhelmed by the intense power enabled by the economy: we now assume “deliciousness” means large amounts of intense, concentrated flavors, and it’s acceptable to eat as much as we want.
When we apply subtraction to the food to become healthier, we tend to assume that we are at the normal level of deliciousness right now – food needs to have intense, strong, concentrated flavors to be palatable. Diet is a compromise because we can no longer enjoy deliciousness when we reduce the intensity of our food.
But this perception is wrong. As we saw in history, the standard for deliciousness is totally subjective and changes as our food changes. Especially today, it is substantially skewed because of the stimulus overload, which is not only causing sickness and obesity, but also making many people feeling out of balance and anxious.
The conceptual effect of subtraction on the level of arousal and the resulting performance
Subtraction in food – a lot of intensely flavored food – helps reduce the stimulus overload, adjust and bring back our taste buds’ performance to an optimal level. When our abilities works at an optimal level, they perform best, and we feel satisfied.