cover image Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science Behind Our Relationship with Food

Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science Behind Our Relationship with Food

Rachel Herz. Norton, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-393-24331-4

Herz (That’s Disgusting), a neuroscientist who teaches at Brown University and Boston College, delivers on her promise to explain human eating habits in this research-based work on neurogastronomy. It’s a new field of study, but, as Herz shows, it’s of vital importance to understanding food-related behaviors. Herz first runs through the four basic tastes of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter before expanding to other modes of sensation. She describes other mouth sensations, such as umami and spicy heat, then moves on to how other senses—smell, sight, hearing, and touch—impact food consumption. Once Herz finishes explaining how each sense contributes to an overall evaluation of a given food, which is generally called “flavor,” she moves on to cover the role that the mind plays in eating. It turns out that such factors as the success of a favorite sports team, whom a person eats with, and the simple distance between one’s hand and the candy bowl effect how much a person eats. She also acknowledges the sensory reasons that some people strenuously avoid eating in her chapter on “avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder” and other eating disorders such as anorexia. Though not as entertaining as similar works on food science, Herz’s book illuminates Western eating habits and offers some ways that both individuals and wider society might change in order to make Westerners eat more sanely. (Dec.)