Un-Stuff America by Cutting Calories

June 29th, 2009

by Hank Cardello
Ecco Publishing
272 pgs, Jan. 2009

With over 30 years of experience in executive roles at Coca-Cola, General Mills and Michelob, Hank Cardello knows a thing or two about what people like to eat and why. After being diagnosed with leukemia, he decided to take a closer look at the connection between public and corporate health. The findings, in his new book stuffed, are at times controversial. But Cardello’s solution is surprisingly simple: focus on the numbers. Cut your calories. As he says, don’t supersize, zero size.

Cardello offers us a behind-the-scenes look at the food industry, leading us into corporate board rooms, federal regulatory hearings and high-powered ad presentations. What he discovers is these 3 bodies – Big Food, government and the media – have conspired to place too many calories on our plate. Average daily calorie intake for Americans since the 1950’s is up 21% to 3900 calories. He argues the food industry is actually best equipped to provide an effective solution to the resulting obesity crisis.

Cardello’s baseline assumption is that Big Food’s profit margin is inextricably linked to long-term public health. If you’re sick, he asserts, you can’t go to your local market or restaurant and buy that burger. Only the food industry has the necessary resources, research and infrastructure to offer a solution: new food products with less calories, more nutrition, but the same delicious taste.

It’s scientifically possible, Cardello says. He advances “stealth health.’ Big Food should engineer new products that are more nutritious but not brag about it to the public – thus not turn away consumers hesitant about “flavorless’ healthy food.

We said controversial, didn’t we?

In addition, Cardello offers a “trim-10 plan.’ He believes government should mandate that companies cut 10 percent of the calories from their products, particularly fast foods. Also, just as the alcohol industry has a “Drink Responsibly’ campaign, Big Food should take more of an educational role by implementing an “Eat Responsibly’ drive. If the industry follows these two steps, he feels it should be granted tax relief.

While we’re slightly skeptical of Cardello’s push for more “food engineering’ – particularly his embrace of 100-calorie snack packs (which, studies have shown, only encourage more eating and more corporate profits) – we appreciate his insight into the mindset of the people who make our food. It’s best to know beforehand what science has in store for us. That way we can consider, and argue for, more environmentally sound options.

What’s more, we welcome Cardello’s focus on excess calories. Eating fewer calories, he alleges, means taking in less sugars, fats and salt — which we can’t argue with! Cutting calories is a message that needs to reach the public, by any and all means. Here at Meatless Monday, we strongly encourage 2000 calories as a daily guideline for most adults.