Hey Thoughty2 here.
The year is 1902, twelve young men at thepeak of their physical fitness and the peak of their careers are sat round a table, dressedin their finest evening-wear.
Silver cutlery and crisp white linen adornthe table.
They are served only the highest quality food,cooked with the expertise of a top chef and a top toxicologist.
Because every mouthful of this delicious foodhas been laced with poison.
From formaldehyde in the mashed potato toborax in the lamb shank.
Every tasty meal is laden with chemicals intendedto kill humans.
But these men were very aware what they wereeating and did so willingly.
For they were the Poison Squad.
The willing participants of this macabre squadwere mostly medical students or employees of the Bureau of Chemistry.
For five years the men sat down to a nightlymeal prepared by a government-run kitchen.
They would be fed a range of toxic and poisonoussubstances, mixed up and hidden within their meals.
Each member of the squad was monitored meticulouslyat all times to observe the effects.
If a member started to get seriously ill froma poison their dose would be reduced.
The poison squad was a daring new experimentby chemist Dr.
Its goal was to identify harmful substancesthat were making their way into our food so food labelling could be improved.
You see, up until this experiment, manufacturerswould chuck any old substance into food products to achieve the desired effects, such as strychninein Bitter Beer and arsenic in children’s sweets.
Something needed to be done and this daringexperiment played a large part in the creation of the Food and Drug Administration.
The Year the experiment ended the Pure Foodand Drug act of 1906 was passed in the US.
Sadly one member of the poison squad dieddue to his organs eventually shutting down from all the ingested poison.
Thankfully we’ve come a long way from havingto eat poisons to test our food products.
Even though practically everything we eattoday is safe, we all know at least one “picky eater”, that friend who will eat nothing butfried chicken and then of course there’s that guy you know who will eat absolutely anything,from olives to deep-fried insects.
Maybe the picky eater is you? But what separates these two people, we’reall born with the same equipment for tasting food so why do certain foods provoke reactionsof disgust, even hate, in some people? There’s one particular animal that knows alltoo well about picky eating, the rat.
Rats are one of nature’s pickiest animals,for one good reason, they don’t possess the ability to vomit.
If a rat ingests something toxic and getsfood poisoning, it has no mechanism to rid the spoiled food from its body, which canoften be fatal.
Rats have therefore evolved to be extremelysuspicious of new foods and will do something called “sampling” when they come across newfood.
Rats will taste a tiny bit of the food tosee if it will make them sick, if not then it will return later and gobble the wholelot.
Fortunately, we humans have various mechanismsto protect ourselves against food poisoning and we can often recover from a dodgy mealwithout medical assistance.
But just like the rat our pickiness aboutcertain foods comes from our evolutionary past.
Scientists have studied why some people areaverse to some foods and they suspect it has to do with our time spent as hunter gatherers.
Long before and even for many hundreds ofthousands of years after, our hominid ancestors invented the spear and other hunting tools,we had to forage to survive.
Without farming and because hunting meat wasunpredictable, our ancestors had to live off foraged nuts, seeds, berries and vegetationto survive.
But many berries, nuts and plants containdeadly poisons that would incapacitate or kill humans if ingested.
So evolution devised a clever way for ourancestors to identify which foods might be toxic.
We developed tastebuds, thousands of tinyreceptors on our tongue that detect five elements of taste: sour, salty, sweet, umami and mostimportantly, bitter.
The toxic substances and poisons found incertain wild berries, nuts and plants contain lots of bitter tasting compounds.
So if our ancestors put something in theirmouth that tasted bitter there was a chance it could be poisonous.
This was an intelligent and highly effectivesystem but of course today, we no longer need to detect poisons in our food.
Today food production is highly regulatedin all developed countries, we can simply read the packaging to find out exactly what’sin our food.
But a distaste for bitter foods is still embeddeddeep within our DNA.
We generally find bitterness unpleasant.
But of course this is not a universal rulefor everyone.
Some people hate the bitter taste of broccoli,but many others love it.
Research has found it all has to do with ourDNA.
When it comes to bitterness there are twotypes of genes, taster genes and non-tasters.
The taster gene has been passed down fromour hominid ancestors, whereas those with the non-taster gene, which is a relativelyrecent mutation within the gene-pool, don’t taste the bitterness in vegetables such asbroccoli and sprouts.
But of course everyone gets two of these genes,one from each parent.
If you get two non-taster genes, one fromeach parent, then congratulations, you are super lucky because you can’t taste the bitternessin vegetables and other bitter foods.
But if, on the other hand you got two tastergenes from your parents, then you’re most likely a very picky eater, especially whenit comes to your greens, because not only can you taste bitterness but you’re extremelysensitive to it; to you foods such as broccoli will taste almost inedibly bitter, your bodywill be repulsed the second it touches your tongue.
So if you know someone who is picky abouttheir veg, maybe cut them some slack, because it’s not actually their fault, it’s in theirDNA.
You may be wondering what happens if you getone gene from each parent, a non taster and a taster gene.
Researchers have found that such people maynot like the taste of bitter foods when they’re younger but through repeatedly trying suchfoods they can actually learn to like them as they grow older, and potentially even appreciatebitter flavours.
This is why certain foods that you hated whenyou were younger are no longer a problem for you when you hit your twenties or thirties.
So that covers the vast majority of people’sfood choices.
But what about the extremely picky eaters,those individuals that categorically will not eat anything but an extremely limitedselection of food.
You know, that person who will ONLY eat cerealand nothing else or that person who won’t eat anything that casts a shadow, oh wait,that’s vegans.
In such individuals the cause is more thangenetics and we start to enter the realm of psychology.
Doctors believe they have diagnosed such extremefussy eaters and it turns out they have a genuine eating disorder.
It’s called Food Neophobia.
We all experience neophobia to some extent.
It’s simply the fear or apprehension of tryingnew or unfamiliar foods, but true neophobics take that fear to a whole new level, whereeven the thought of eating anything except what they’re used to, make’s them feel nauseous.
It’s believed that neophobia has its rootsin genetics, and having certain genes can increase a person’s neophobic tendencies.
However to reach a high level of neophobia,where a person will outright refuse to eat anything new, even something that many otherwould find desirable, such as pizza, there needs to be an added psychosocial factor ontop of their genetics.
When growing up, if children don’t experiencetheir parents eating a wide variety of foods or never trying new foods, they are much morelikely to develop neophobia.
And of course, parents who are rather unadventurouswith their culinary choices are far more likely to give their children uninspired and similarfoods, night after night, which only makes the likelihood of the child developing neophobiafar, far worse.
The biggest problem with neophobia is thatonce it sets its claws into a child it’s extremely hard to break its hold and in the vast majorityof cases it continues into adulthood.
So how do we prevent neophobia from developingin the first place? Well the answer lies to the east, in a magicaland bizarre place called Japan.
I’ve talked previously about how Japan isthe healthiest country in the world, with the highest life expectancy.
It’s long been thought that how we are taughtto eat as a child stays with us our whole lives and hugely affects our eating habitsas an adult, for better or for worse.
Japanese culture has taken this to the extremeand Japanese children eat a far more varied and healthier diet than kids in every othercountry, which could explain why they have such long life expectancies.
Japanese children have the lowest childhoodobesity rates in the developed world and it’s easy to see why.
Snacking between meals is unheard of and Japanesekids are strongly encouraged to never snack, at least until after they’ve eaten.
Japanese children eat exactly what their parentseat, which gets them use to a wide variety of foods and cuisines from an early age.
There’s no microwave chicken nuggets for thekids and then a different meal for the parents as is common in many western homes.
But this approach to food doesn’t stop outsideof the home.
Japanese school dinners are often praisedas being the highest quality and healthiest of any country.
Every meal is cooked from scratch, every morningin the school kitchen.
Quality ingredients are sourced from localfarms.
A typical Japanese school dinner consistsof a few different elements that vary each day, but it usually includes tofu and vegetablesin miso soup, rice with seaweed and fish or meat with even more vegetables.
If a kid doesn’t like that meal, then tough,because there is only ever one option each day.
There is no choice at meal times for Japaneseschool children; whatever is cooked that day is what they will eat.
Because let’s face it, there’s no point inoffering a healthy option if 99% of school kids are going to instead opt for pizza andchips.
But having no other choice works so well inJapan because there are practically no picky eaters, eating disorders such as neophobiaare pretty much non-existent in Japan.
And maybe that’s due to their food culturewithin the home and at school.
So when it comes to eating habits maybe weshould all try to be a little more Japanese.
Would that be such a bad thing, I mean, theyhave ramen; everybody likes ramen.
Thanks for watching.
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