Freakonomics | Podcast Review | November 9, 2015 | By

Freakonomics: Food + Science = Victory!

In our society, food is far more than a sterile calories in, calories out calculus. It is central to our social experiences, an art form in and of itself. And not to mention, delicious.



Add vodka to the dough for a flakier pie crust. Eat vegetables as soon as you buy them for maximum antioxidant retention. Salt your eggs and let them sit for a few minutes before scrambling them for a lighter texture. 

In an episode reminiscent of Alton Brown’s Food Network show Good Eats, this week’s Freakonomics is all about food. It is like Food Network for the ears, and there is no visual necessary to induce drooling. In addition to debunking conventional wisdom about food that is wrong or misguided, it is chock full of helpful culinary tips and advice on how to maximize the nutritional value of your meals.

Central to the discussion is the challenge of striking the right balance between taste and nutrition. Can you have your cake and eat it, too? On the one hand, food is necessary not only to survive, but to thrive. From this standpoint, making sure we get the amount of nutrients from our food should take priority over eating something that tastes good. This is easier said than done, however, because a juicy, greasy, savory hamburger just tastes so good. In our society, food is far more than a sterile calories in, calories out calculus. It is central to our social experiences, considered by some to be an art form, and not to mention delicious. But alas, man cannot live on Krispy Kreme alone. 

I loved how Freakonomics not only discussed this dilemma explicitly, but also built it in to the structure of the episode through the selection of its two guests: Kenji López-Alt, managing culinary director at SeriousEats.com and author of The Food Lab, and Jo Robinson, the author of Eating on the Wild Side.

López-Alt, an M.I.T. graduate who writes about the science behind food, offers methods to enhance food flavor, texture and taste, which he discovers through experimentation. From the all-important geometry of food (surface area to volume ratio) to double-blind taste tests to determine whether the difference with New York pizza is in the water, López-Alt has making delicious food down to a science. This isn’t to say he cares less about the nutritional aspect of food—in fact, he says he usually eats healthy and food should be sustaining—but, as host Stephen Dubner put it: “[His] book is unapologetically about deliciousness” (14:56).

I, for one, am totally on board with his philosophy that “if I’m going to eat a hamburger, I want that to be the best damn hamburger I can make” (15:28).

Robinson, an investigative journalist whose book is about food values—and our apparent lack of them—makes a strong case for why we should care more about the nutritional value of our food. We have the technology to know what food does to our bodies, but thanks to myths, habits, and what’s accessible, we still consume things like iceberg lettuce, which “veterinarians don’t even recommend as rabbit food” (24:50) because of its lack of nutritional value. Industrialized agriculture prioritizes characteristics like disease resistance or productivity over food value, which is causing us to greatly reduce the nutritional and health benefit of the plants we eat.

The episode was informative, interesting, and applicable to everyday life, which added additional value to the knowledge shared. As for the epic throwdown between taste and nutrition, both authors agree that the answer lies in moderation.

About the Author

Rebecca Lim is a writer at Audiologue, where she covers Freakonomics and Note to SelfReach her by email at rebecca@audiologue.xyz.

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