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Last week, when I announced all the Foodie Blogroll Contests and Giveaways for this month, I mentioned that I would be writing more about our Stuffed Nation Giveaway, that we are doing in conjunction with author and former former food executive turned anti-obesity exponent Hank Cardello.

The giveaway is starting this week, and we will be giving away the first of 8 books this Friday, September 11, 2009 and will be running for 8 weeks. This giveaway is much more interactive. Bloggers are encouraged to discuss their views on food policy and the obesity problem for a chance to win a copy of the book. This is a way to get people talking about the very important issue of escalating obesity and diabetes (as well as other health related concerns) in the United States. As two-thirds of Americans struggle with being overweight or obese, nothing has worked to take off the pounds. Diet plans, Food Pyramid Guidelines, package nutritional labeling, and five-a-day fruit & vegetable programs have all failed to arrest America’s increasing girth. Hank offers solutions in his book, but we want to hear your thoughts and ideas as well! We encourage bloggers, whether they are in the US, or elsewhere to weigh in on this big issue, that seems to be spreading worldwide.

I had the opportunity to chat with Hank Cardello a few weeks ago about his book, his concerns about rising obesity and his respect for people like Michael Pollan and The Slow Food Movement. He sees himself as a bit of a conduit between consumers and the industry. Although he believes that prevention is a powerful thing, the problem is translating that in a hard dollar amount to the food companies. He also disagrees with those that lobby for placing taxes on “bad food” as it is just more money to the Federal Government, and doesn’t really solve the problem. People will eat what they want to eat. Although he has respect for the Michael Pollan’s of the world, he doesn’t believe it solves the problem of obesity. Consumers have counted on fast food and convenience food for so long. Mr. Cardello believes that there has to be a meeting point so that we can move past this stalemate. It may not be a perfect solution, but it will get us going. From the conversation, it was my interpretation that he would love to see people eat more seasonally and healthfully, but he feels that this won’t work on a large scale right now. It is too much of a leap. That there needs to be another way to really get this thing moving. A platform that meets somewhere in the middle, in order to make everyone involved happy enough to move forward to actually do something.

Food policy is a very important and heated topic these days. You hear about it in the news, and the popularity of books like Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, as well as Barbara Kingslover’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Nina Planck’s book Real Food really shows a growing trend of consumers being more and more concerned about the food we eat and a very big movement to getting back to basics. With this wave of books, comes Hank Cardello’s book Stuffed: An Insider’s Look at Who’s (Really) Making America Fat, where he discusses from an insider’s perspective and offers solutions for how this trend can be changed, in a very different way than these other books. He provides novel and concrete steps food companies can take to fatten their profits while slimming 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.

I very much agree with this last sentiment. I have discussed this very thing recently, in my post Concerned Consumer or Mentally Ill? I believe that Americans ( and any other people, for that matter) have to take personal responsibility for their health. People need to find out more about the food that they put into their bodies, and from that make informed decisions about what they choose to buy and eat from that point on. We need to make informed decisions by looking at the “modern diet” which has created this modern problem, and remove those problem foods from our diets. When we vote with our wallets, change can happen.

I know personally, this is a topic that I have been learning about, and as a consequence modifying my own diet for the past 10 years. I think it has taken me that long to figure out what really works for me. I feel that there is no cookie cutter plan for individuals – not just food, but lifestyle, genetics and exercise play a big role in obesity and diet related health problems. My rule of thumb is that if we eat the foods that humans have been eating in their diets for millennia, we are on the right track. It is with the introduction of new convenience and processed foods, that we have also been introduced to these new health problems. America is such a melting pot of different cultures and foods, and we have really been bombarded by the food industry and their new foods that we have forgotten how to eat. Many other countries, have the advantage of traditional foods, and with that strong cultural backbone, there is a lot of backlash against new products and food, that are not part of the diet. This is a good thing. We need to take this back in the US. Since we are such a melting pot, we have to do this differently. I think the best way to go about it is to eat as locally, and seasonally as possible. When I talked to Mr. Cardello about how this obesity problem is pretty much isolated to a few countries, his response was that he believes there are 3 factors that contribute to people overall being healthier in other countries: 1) exercise as a way of life 2) dependence on fresh food as opposed to processed 3) a diet based more on traditional/ cultural foods which are not processed.

Mr Cardello, disagrees in his book that eating locally and seasonally helps to solve the obesity problem. He comes from the position that calories are calories. His goal is to lower calories that people consume on a large scale basis, to help solve the obesity problem. Although this approach does make sense for people who live off fast food, and processed foods, I feel it is a band aid fix. This approach is probably the best I have heard in a context where we only have fast food and processed food available. But,  I tend to look at this from an “outsiders” prospective and know from my own experiences (and I also know that I am not alone) as well as scientific findings, that calories are not all created equal. We have all heard about empty calories. Mr. Cardello discusses at length how those 100 calorie snack bags are a good idea. They limit the amount of calories a person ingests, because the bag is only so big. Those 100 calorie snack bags, area controlled 100 calories. But which is healthier for our bodies – that 100 calorie snack bag or say, a hard boiled egg, which is also about 100 calories? That egg also offers protein, and that egg contains vitamins and trace minerals. Sure it has more fat and probably more cholesterol, but it is derived naturally, which can not be said about the chemical factory that is contained in that snack pack. But not only that – what kind of nutrition do you really even get from a snack pack, naturally derived or not? Not much. Empty calories.

I am a firm believer that eating real food that comes from nature, that humans have been eating from time immemorial, are the best foods to eat. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel. We need to make the decision to eat food that has been around for thousands of years. I believe that there needs to be better education about this, so that people can make informed decisions about what they chose to consume. It is not just about calories. Some people may still chose that fast food burger, give this information,  but many will not. Although there is educational information on this topics, already out there, there needs to be more. This information also needs to contain strong language, really showing the health risks, in a similar fashion to  the way information was exposed about the tobacco industry. Since the real truth came out about that, there are way less smokers in the world today. I believe the same can happen where food is concerned.

I really enjoyed reading Hank’s book. I believe for many people, those who eat fast food, and lots of convenience and processed foods, there will be a lot of eye openers contained within and some solutions,  if people really do refuse to change their ways. For me, I feel like most of this book does not apply to me. I never eat fast food, and I make most of my food from scratch, without the help of processed foods. Mr. Cardello says that people like me are very much in the minority. However, I have seen an encouraging and rising trend over the past few years where more and more people everyday are joining this minority. Even for us, I do believe that this book is worth reading, to really learn where the food companies, food industry, advertising firms and even grocery stores are coming from and how they contribute to this problem, in more ways than I even knew! This book is a catalyst for discussion on the topic, and perhaps the more people join this conversation, the more will chose not to eat that fast food burger or 100 calorie snack pack.

These are my personal views and thoughts on the subject, and now I want to hear yours!

I sent a link to this discussion to Mr. Cardello, and this was his response:

You certainly have stirred up some passionate responses. Your audience clearly “gets it” about healthy eating and behaves accordingly. I have also found that there is very little “give” with this group. It is all or nothing, and that eating this way is the only way to go…for everyone.

Our crisis in food is not a simple “either/or” situation. The remainder of the population doesn’t eat processed or fast food 100% of the time. Many do, but most practice a combination of healthy and less healthy eating behaviors. I believe that obesity has not been solved to date exactly because of this “either/or” mentality. It causes both the food industry and food advocates to dig in to their respective positions, with little progress.

My proposal to focus on lowering calories (which will, by the way, also lower fats and sugars by definition) is not the end game. But engaging the food industry in a way that recognizes they EXIST to make a profit, while demanding more responsibility on their part, stands a higher probability of resolving the biggest health problem we’re facing right now.

I welcome further dialogue on this and again thank you for raising the level of awareness to alternative solutions.

With this 2 month giveaway, we want to spread the word and our concerns about food policy in the US (and the world over). So we are inviting food bloggers to post on their blogs about their ideas on food policy, or why you think obesity is such a problem in the US, and ideas on what we can do to solve that problem To be eligible to win the book, your post will need to include a link back to Stuffed Nation (Hank’s blog) and The Foodie Blogroll . You will also need to email a link to your post to Jenn, The Leftover Queen (founder and manager of The Foodie Blogroll) at: queen(@)leftoverqueen.com. We look forward to these entries!