Food today literally, objectively tastes less good than it used to.
It is less flavorful. It is less juicy. It it less nutritious.
Because fruits, vegetables, meat and grains haven't been bred and raised to be tasty. They've been bred to get big fast (big often just means there's more water in it -- which means flavor and nutrients get diluted). They've been bred/raised to ship well (thicker shells, picked before ripe, etc.). They've been bred to make more money, rather than to taste good.
Moreover, the way we raise livestock has changed. The animals have weird diets now, that consist of feed, hormones, antibiotics, etc. Chickens, for example. Free range chickens, if you've ever watched them, eat... everything. Plants. Grains. Bugs. Poop. And this variety in their diet actually makes them healthier animals with more flavorful and nutritious meat.
(It turns animals are incredibly good at knowing what they should be eating. They've studied this. Scientists assigned sheep to one of two conditions. In the first condition, sheep were fed a diet of feed designed by intelligent humans with Ph.D.'s in animal nutrition. In the second condition, every single ingredient that was included in the Ph.D.-designed feed was set out individually, for the sheep to eat in the amount they chose. When they measured the sheeps' growth and health, the sheep in the second condition fared better. Meaning they instinctively design diets for themselves, based on their own health and biology and needs, than the best humans in the world. But that's another story.)
Old cookbooks were full of recipes with about three ingredients: salt, pepper and oil. People then didn't need to cover their salads in dressing (which is full of chemicals, additives, preservatives, "flavors," etc.). They didn't need a million different herbs and spices for their meat. A good chicken, by definition, was one that only needed salt and pepper. If you needed to put more than that on your chicken... it wasn't a good chicken.
(Some people argue that this has to do with the availability of spices 30 or more years ago. But this argument is incorrect. People had spices. They just didn't need to use them as much because everything tasted better.)
Here is a list of the ingredients used in Kentucky Friend Chicken chicken:
Seasoning (Salt, Monosodium Glutamate, Garlic Powder, Spice Extractives, Onion Powder), Soy Protein Concentrate, Rice Starch and Sodium Phosphates. Battered with: Water, Wheat Flour, Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Salt, Dextrose, Monosodium Glutamate, Spice and Onion Powder. Predusted with: Wheat Flour, Wheat Gluten, Salt, Dried Egg Whites, Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Monosodium Glutamate, Spice and Onion Powder. Breaded with: Wheat Flour, Salt, Soy Flour, Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Monosodium Glutamate, Spice, Nonfat Dry Milk, Onion Powder, Dextrose, Extractives of Turmeric and Extractives of Annatto. Breading Set in Vegetable oil.
The point of all those ingredients... is to make chicken taste like what chicken is supposed to taste like.
Now. As far as "artificial" flavors go, I'm not entirely convinced that they're evil and cancer-causing. Chemically, "artificial" flavors are exactly the same as "natural" flavors. Exactly the same. The ONLY difference... is the process by which the flavor was derived. In fact, sometimes the "artificial" flavor is actually safer than the "natural" one, because the "natural" process can be more carcinogenic, more likely to be contaminated with "natural" chemicals like cyanide, etc.
Have you read the Dorito Effect? What was your favorite chapter or study in the book? Anything else you'd add?