Are We Really What We Eat?


The way you've probably heard it is, "You are what you eat." The way it was actually said is, "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are."

Considering it was said by a French gastronomist named Brillat Savarin in a book called "Physiologie du Gout," it's probably just as well that we've not only Americanized this famous saying, but completely forgotten where it came from. And people wonder why the French, the ultimate food snobs, don't like us.

Anyway, there is a new book out called "What Flavor is Your Personality" (Sourcebooks, $22.95) by Dr. Alan Hirsch, a Chicago neurologist and psychiatrist who specializes in treating people with, of all things, smell and taste loss. In his book, however, he puts forward the notion that "what you crave predicts exactly who you are."

Here, for example, is what the good doctor says your snack preferences say about you:

Potato chips - Ambitious and successful.

Tortilla chips - Perfectionist with high expectations.

Pretzels - Lively and novelty-loving.

Nuts - Calm, even in the midst of upheaval.

Popcorn - Take charge and quick to take on extra work.

Cheese curls - Conscientious, principled and proper.

Who would have thought that junk foods would have such high character traits associated with them. Not having read the book, we can only surmise what Dr. Hirsch has to say about foods considered good for you. Maybe something like:

Asparagus - You are a rotten, unprincipled slimebag with no sense of taste and smell.

Broccoli - You are no son of George Bush and you'll never be president.

Liver - You are a lazy, good-for-nothing slug with bad breath.

Fortunately, I like most of the junk foods mentioned above, with the possible exception of cheese curls, which is an innocuous way of saying Cheetos the most God-awful food on this planet with the possible exception of pork rinds, which are nothing more than deep-fried blubber. Actually pieces of styrofoam, Cheetos are colored with an iridescent orange dye that melts on your fingers and not in your mouth, stigmatizing you forever as an "Eater of Cheetos."

To say that people who eat Cheetos are "conscientious, principled and proper" quite simply defies logic. In fact, the whole idea that good people eat bad food loaded with sugar and calories and salt is so foreign, it borders on being French.

But with the exception of Cheetos, I like junk food as well as the next person. So I decided to conduct a scientific experiment to test Dr. Hirsch's theory.

The first item I consumed was a junk food that I grew up on, but which, I soon discovered, some people in these parts have never heard of circus peanuts. A gross orange color of the Cheetos persuasion, circus peanuts are made of pure sugar fortified with concentrated cholesterol.

While circus peanuts are not all that easy to find anymore, I did locate a very stale package at, of all places, Ace Hardware. I can only say that if junk foods make you more principled, I didn't notice. In fact some of the words I tried to use as I struggled to chew a stale circus peanut were less than proper.

A friend I was with who had never before heard of circus peanuts was very sorry when I insisted she try one. The language she used also was less than proper.

But the next day, I had a chance to put Dr. Hirsch's theory to a second test. En route to Flagstaff, my friend and I stopped for breakfast at that little cafe on Highway 260 near the Lake Mary Road turnoff.

Despite the fact that my friend "doesn't eat mammals," we decided to order that staple of the Rimaroo diet biscuits and gravy. Surely, we reasoned, if lovers of potato chips are "ambitious and successful," then connoisseurs of biscuits and gravy are downright godlike.

But all we got from our encounter was a mild case of heartburn. And while I still can't tell you

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