Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Tony Deyal: Say cheese and smile sweetly

Published:Saturday | February 6, 2016 | 2:46 PMTony Deyal

The term 'hard cheese' is a 19th-century British expression that means 'tough luck'.

It is not used as much these days since the density, firmness, even resilience of the coagulated, compressed and most times ripened curds of milk - whether firm, elastic, soft or even liquid - do not matter as much as the quantity, sometimes quality, and continuous availability of what has become an addictive, euphoria-inducing food. 

An Evening Standard article stated that researchers from the University of Michigan, using the Yale Food Addiction Scale designed to measure a person’s cravings, found that cheese is addictive because it contains casein, a habit-forming drug. The chemical, which is found in all dairy products, can trigger the brain’s opioid receptors, producing a feeling of euphoria linked to those of hard drug addiction.

A pound of cheese requires about 10 pounds of milk - with addictive casein coagulating the solid milk fats and separating them from the liquids. In other words, a bagel with cream cheese, toast with grilled cheese, or a three-cheese omelette will make you feel much better than a bowl of cereal.

When you consider that an average person eats about 35 pounds of cheese a year, it is clear that we are all going crackers. The fact that my first venture into mathematics was determining that the little triangular cheeses that come in a round box is a square meal is a casein point. 

If you’re a Latin American or have succumbed to the delight of a cheese pie loaded with guava jam, you’re beyond recovery. You have three dopes in one – the cheese, you and, not the guava but the sugar in the jam.

The scientists are at it again. Alexander Woollcott, the critic, moaned that as you get older, everything in life is illegal, immoral or fattening.  The scientists are now telling us that everything is carcinogenic or worse. You drink diet soda and it is bad for you. You drink what we call 'sweet drink', or a soft drink like Coke or Pepsi, and the sugar is bad for you. Drink water with fluoride and that is bad for you, too. Drink water without fluoride and your teeth rot. You cannot escape science or death, which are both increasingly the same.

A team from Yale University now claims to have deciphered sugar’s siren song.  According to Yale News, “Sugar’s sweetness and calorie content combine to give it lethal power to destroy diets, many scientists have assumed. However, (a) new study by Yale University researchers says the brain responds to taste and calorie counts in fundamentally different ways.

And only one of these responses explains why most New Year’s resolutions have already disappeared under a deluge of Boston Crème Pies. It’s the brain’s desire for calories - not sweetness - that dominates our desire for sugars, according to the study appearing January 25 in the journal Nature Neuroscience. "It turns out the brain actually has two segregated sets of neurons to process sweetness and energy signals," said Ivan de Araujo of the John B. Pierce Laboratory and senior author of the study. "If the brain is given the choice between pleasant taste and no energy, or unpleasant taste and energy, the brain picks energy.’” 

The scientists believe that humans have a sweet tooth as one way of ensuring we eat enough to give our large brains enough calories to operate at peak efficiency and our increasing girth based on the combination of fat (from cheese among other dangerous drug-riddled foods) and sugar makes us want more of the same. 

The research actually answers two questions that I’ve always had. The first is about sugar.

We in the Caribbean are children of sugar. Most of us were brought here as slaves or indentured immigrants or as owners or operators of the fields and factories. When I considered that sugar is not a food in the strictest sense of the word, I could not understand why so many people died because of it. Why, in other words, did the Europeans then, and the entire world now, make such a big thing of sugar? Is it a rum idea to think that it is the basis of life as we know it?

My second question arose when I first encountered Limburger cheese. For those who have not yet savoured its unusual 'sweetness', the cheese has a pungent aroma derived from the bacteria Brevibacterium linens, which is partially responsible for body odour, particularly smelly feet (known familiarly as 'toe-jam'). Why would anyone want to eat this?

In the sugar research, the Yale scientists fed their mice sugar with sweet taste but no calories or sugar that contained calories but was altered to taste horribly. The mice preferred the sugar with energy and ate copious amounts of it. 

The research is depressing. It makes me increasingly aware, even at my age, that life is a no-win game, essentially hard cheese over which nobody should Cheddar solitary tear, and is as bad as some of the cheese jokes you find on the Internet. What happened after the explosion at the cheese factory? Nothing left but de brie.

How do you get a mouse to smile? Say cheese (and smile sweetly). One of mine is, "Why was the burglar skulking around the cheese factory?"  He was casein the joint. The one-liner I like is, “What is the hottest and richest cheese in the world?” Paris Stilton.

- Tony Deyal was last seen so depressed that he was eating an entire cheesecake. His excuse was that his capacious brain needed the sugar, and the eggs were full of protein.