When It Rots, Eat It

For French psychiatrist Dr. G. Clotaire Rapaille, it was a short leap from working with autistic children to consulting for corporations like Campbell’s and Kraft. After a lecture on his discoveries about the “reptilian” brain at Geneva University, a parent approached him, saying, “I’ve got a client for you: Nestlé.” Rapaille flew to Asia to figure out how to sell instant coffee to the Japanese. Since then, companies have asked Rapaille to crack the code of our subconscious to create products that appeal to various cultures.

How does the human brain affect our food choices?

Well, the reptilian always wins. Forget the limbic and the cortex. You might hear that coffee is good for your health. The next day you hear coffee gives you cancer. You hear contradictory intellectual data, and so you go back to what I call the “grandmother dimension.” You think, Wow, my grandma drank coffee; she lived to be 98 and died in a car accident. You go back to deep, gut feelings. The primitive part of our brains drives our tastes. These first imprints matter most.

How do Americans and Europeans view food differently?

In France, we have a delicious pheasant dish. You hang the bird and wait until it starts to decay. When it starts rotting and smelling, it’s time to eat it. The meat has more taste. Taste is the priority, not safety. My first experience of cheese is watching people buying it, poking it, smelling it. You don’t put it in the refrigerator for the same reason you don’t put your cat in the refrigerator. You don’t put living things in there. For Americans, cheese is dead. [Americans] are more afraid of the danger, less concerned with taste. Americans don’t touch cheese. You wrap it in plastic like a body bag and take it home and put it right in the morgue of the fridge. We have completely different attitudes.