In a post entitled “The Neuroscience of McGriddles,” Jonah Lehrer (How We Decide; Proust Was a Neuroscientist) samples the “eerily delicious” McDonald’s product and reaches some dark conclusions:
…The most pleasurable thing about the sandwich isn’t the pancake or the bacon: it’s the calories. According to a recent paper in Neuron, the brain also receives rewarding input from metabolic processes that have nothing to do with the tongue. When you eat at McDonald’s, a big part of the pleasure comes from the fact that the food is sustenance, fuel, energy. Even mediocre food is a little rewarding.
Indeed, even mice with an impaired sense of taste still prefer sugar water over both plain water and water with artificial sweetener. “What they enjoyed were the calories.” And humans’ desire for high-calorie food seems based on our evolutionary investment in a large cranium.
This is a troubling idea, since it reveals the very deep biological roots underlying the obesity epidemic. Let’s imagine, for instance, that some genius invented a reduced calorie bacon product that tasted exactly like bacon, except it had 50 percent fewer calories. It would obviously be a great day for civilization. But this research suggests that such a pseudo-bacon product, even though it tasted identical to real bacon, would actually give us much less pleasure. Why? Because it made us less fat. Because energy is inherently delicious. Because we are programmed to enjoy calories.
[Image: brian cors; thanks to Dinosaur Comics for the link: “Food’s neat, you guys!”]