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Stuffed: An Insider's Look at Who's (Really) Making America Fatby Hank Cardello
Synopses & Reviews
For more than thirty years, Hank Cardello was an executive and adviser to some of the largest food and beverage corporations in the world. For more than thirty years, he watched as corporate profits—and America's waistlines—ballooned: fattening consumers meant fattening profits. Now, in this fascinating and timely book, Cardello offers a behind-the-scenes look at the business of food, providing an insider's account of food company practices, failed government regulations, and misleading media coverage that have combined to place us in the middle of a national obesity epidemic.
With insights culled from Cardello's time in the food industry, Stuffedexplores how food companies have spent the last fifty years largely ignoring healthier fare in the name of their bottom lines while pushing consumers toward "convenience" food and supersize portions without considering the health consequences. From grocery aisles to restaurant booths to boardrooms, Cardello reveals the hidden forces that have long shaped your supermarket purchases and menu selections. He examines the black-and-white mindset that has produced the carefully targeted marketing strategies that have maximized profits for the food industry and led to weight gain for you.
But Cardello makes clear that the food companies should not take all the blame. They are merely a cog in a larger system that's broken, and here Cardello illustrates how the government and the media have only made it harder for Americans to make nutritious choices. Highlighting both bit players and high-profile voices of change, Cardello explains the fundamental risks to one-size-fits-all regulatory solutions and the bigger dangers posed by letting the food pundits confuse the health conversation.
More than simply a chronicle of how we got here, Stuffedalso puts forth a groundbreaking blueprint for the future of the food industry. In debunking the common myth that "healthier" has to mean higher costs and unpalatable tastes, Cardello provides novel but concrete steps that food companies can take to fatten their profits and slim down their customers. In addition, he stresses the realistic role that consumers must play in America's new health equation, explaining that unless they demand healthier food with their wallets, America will continue to tip the scales for years to come.
Provocative and insightful, Stuffedis a sweeping critique of excessive food consumption in America, one that uncovers the money behind the calories and presents a fresh vision for building health into the lives of ordinary Americans.
"When Cardello, a former food and beverage executive, was initially diagnosed with leukemia (lab tests later disproved it), he began looking closely at the relationship between public health and corporate health. The obesity epidemic in particular, he argues, is connected to food businesses that control 'almost everything the average American eats.' Drawing substantially on his professional knowledge, he examines such factors as marketing and product packaging, the recent controversies involving branded school snacks and beverages, the use of trans fat in restaurants, and the various food lobbies. Cardello believes that bottom-line thinking makes it difficult for Americans to eat well. While agreeing that the basic agenda of corporations and consumers alike is 'more' — more profit, more product — he argues that the industries' long-range interests are directly entwined with public health and that with their substantial economic power and overpackaged goods, supermarket and restaurant industries could redirect consumption and wellness in novel ways. Although the tone ranges from finger-wagging polemic to reformist optimism, the author does sketch out several solutions to get around obstacles like entrenched corporate and consumer thinking, and he himself cohosted a 2007 summit between industry leaders and obesity researchers." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
The world is fat, proclaims the title of Barry Popkin's book — something we all know by now, and all recognize as a disaster. But what are we going to do about it? This is the question addressed, in different ways, by him and two other authors. Popkin, a distinguished nutritionist with more than 30 years' experience in international research, offers a concise, lucid overview of... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) how the human diet has gone awry in the last half-century. The cause of the global obesity crisis, according to Popkin, is a toxic collision of evolutionary, economic and social factors. We seem to be programmed biologically to enjoy eating sugar and fatty foods; misguided agricultural subsidies and a clever food industry conspire to make us eat lots of refined carbohydrates and calorific soft drinks; and we, as individuals, sit around too much and eat too many snacks. Popkin is frank about the overriding commercial motivations of companies selling processed foods, their often-biased approach to scientific research and their powerful lobbying ("Big Sugar" and "Big Beverage," he suggests, now behave as "Big Tobacco" once did, trying to suppress information damaging to their interests). Although some companies, he says, are attempting to change their ways — for example, by cutting calories from their products — they are unlikely to make real progress without government regulation. Meanwhile, agricultural subsidies make it more profitable for farmers to grow the ingredients of junk food than fruits and vegetables. And when individuals want to improve their diets, they are faced with a "cacophony of confusing, even ominous messages." In the end, Popkin advocates a multi-pronged attack on obesity that involves government, industry, communities, personal lifestyle choices and, in severe individual cases, gastric bypass surgery. Governments, he argues, need to start changing behavior through taxation, just as they did with tobacco — starting, perhaps, with a levy on sugar added to beverages. Mark Bittman, a TV cook and New York Times columnist, is concerned with the effects of overconsumption not only on the human body, but also on the environment. Our rapacious appetite for meat, he reminds us, is responsible for a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions (with modern farming, for example, it takes nearly 20 times as much fossil fuel to produce a calorie of beef as it does to produce a calorie of corn). Junk food is not just unhealthy, but also environmentally destructive (think of all the energy that goes into processing, packaging and transportation). In Bittman's book, "Food Matters," Big Oil and Big Food are the enemies, in cahoots with complacent government, and it's up to individuals to switch to patterns of eating that are healthier in every sense. Like Michael Pollan in "In Defense of Food," Bittman takes a common-sense approach, telling readers that it's simple to eat well: Just "eat less meat and junk food, eat more vegetables and whole grains." Indeed, "Food Matters" reads like a practical companion to Pollan's book. Bittman says he originally adjusted his diet for reasons of conscience. He minimized consumption of junk food, over-refined carbohydrates such as white flour and white rice, and animal products — and found not only that it was easy and enjoyable, but also that he lost weight and became healthier. If more people followed his example, he wonders, wouldn't they eventually have an impact on Big Food? The second part of his book is devoted to practical nutritional and culinary advice, with recipes that he hopes will support a shift toward what he calls "sane eating." Hank Cardello is a former executive at Coca-Cola and General Mills who spent most of his career in the food industry hatching plans to get you to eat more junk food. After a personal cancer scare, he had a crisis of conscience and decided to try to "re-envision how the food industry dealt with health." The "insider" revelations he offers are not particularly surprising: Couldn't we have guessed that the food industry is more concerned with our dollars than our waistlines? Cardello is less optimistic than Popkin and Bittman about the ability of individuals to change their eating habits: In his eyes, most people are weak-willed and unable to resist temptation. He rails against government regulation and sees the food industry as our only potential savior, though he is frank about its financial motivations. His hope is that Big Food eventually will realize that killing its customers is not in its economic interest, and that there is money to be made in selling healthier products. But the improvements he advocates would make Bittman choke. Cardello reckons that encouraging people to eat healthy food deliberately is a lost cause: He describes one doctor's attempts to persuade schoolchildren to eat fruits and vegetables as "rowing against the tide." Since most people prefer the taste of junk food, he argues, the best solution is simply for food companies to "sneak" nutrients into their best-selling products "without letting anyone know." The future, for Cardello, lies in a world of hamburgers doctored with omega-3 fatty acids and other "nutraceutically" enhanced processed foods. Unfortunately, he undermines his own arguments by admitting, earlier in the book, that nutritional science is often inconclusive and that vested interests sway scientific debate. We all know what happened when trans-fats were introduced as a healthier alternative to saturated natural fats: People ate margarine laden with trans-fats because they thought it was better for them than butter, only to discover a few years later that trans-fats cause heart disease. Can anyone really trust the food industry to know what it's doing when it re-engineers familiar foods in the laboratory? Reading all three books with their contrasting takes on the obesity crisis, it's hard to avoid agreeing with Bittman that processed food, no matter how souped-up with nutritious additives, just can't beat the real stuff, while the interests of the food industry will always lie in adding value by processing, packaging and extending shelf-life. Unfortunately, reverting to the "saner, more traditional, and less manufactured" diet prescribed by Bittman is not as simple as it sounds. For a start, what, in our polyglot cities, divorced as most of us are from the land, is a "traditional" diet? How many of us are willing to spend time cooking from scratch (Popkin reminds us that, until the 1970s, American women spent an average of two hours a day preparing food). And how do we begin to restore the lost culinary knowledge of a generation or two reared on junk? One suspects that Bittman is preaching to the semi-converted. The real challenge, surely, lies in persuading people who don't read such books to invest time in preparing food for their families and reminding them how to do it (an immense task, as the British TV chef Jamie Oliver showed in his recent "Ministry of Food" series). Bittman is over-optimistic and Cardello unduly pessimistic about the ability of human beings to change their eating habits. Popkin, however, offers the most balanced view, recognizing the damage wrought by the forces of industrialization while accepting that the very same forces have liberated us from punishing physical labor and made our lives more interesting. The quandary, according to him, is not how to stop development and modernization, but how to adjust our lifestyles so that we are helped rather than destroyed by them. Fuchsia Dunlop is the author, most recently, of "'Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China." Reviewed by Fuchsia Dunlop, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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About the Author
Hank Cardello is chief executive officer of 27° North (www.27degNorth.com), a consulting firm that helps businesses take the lead on solving social issues. For more than three decades he was an executive at some of the world's largest food and beverage companies, including Coca-Cola and General Mills. Today he chairs the annual Global Obesity Business Forum, sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Cardello lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
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