I may be one of the last people in the health and fitness world who has not read The Omnivore’s Dilemmaor In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
I own both of them, I just haven’t made it that far through my reading list yet. My reading list is strange and varied. I tend to go by feeling rather than first bought, first read.
You would think since I own them both, though, I would have picked them up to read before I bought the book I am about to review. I guess this book just caught my eye and since (thanks to other media outlets) I have a really good idea what Michael Pollan says, I thought I would give this book a try first.
The book I am referring to is Stuffed: An Insider’s Look at Who’s (Really) Making America Fat and How the Food Industry Can Fix Itby Hank Cardello. I think it was a reference to the “insider” part that peaked my interest the most. Mr. Cardello used to work for the food and beverage industry, namely Coca Cola and General Mills. He has since gone off on his own, formed a consulting firm and chairs the annual Global Obesity Business Forum.
Getting the perspective of someone who was “part of the machine” was an interesting concept. The problem is the concept doesn’t translate well in this book. Reading this book I still felt like he had one foot in the door. His ideas came across as ones that could still work in the existing system, using the same models except in sneaky good ways. For example, he talked about supersizing only the “right” products. You could only super size diet Coke but not a regular Coke. While I see the calorie advantage, neither product has nutritional value. Why should we have supersizing at all?
He also has an entire chapter devoted to his concept of “Stealth Health”. “Stealth Health” is taking something like a fast food burger and changing the recipe to make it better for you without telling you. While I don’t entirely disagree with the concept, I would like to give most people more credit than that. I think most of us want to eat things that are healthy and good for us. If it costs the same, tastes good and is better why should that be a secret? He thinks it would drive people away. Perhaps, but again I like to think better of people.
While he does share some interesting facts, all in all this wasn’t one of my favorite reads. It may be partly due to the fact that many chapters read like case studies for business or marketing classes. Or perhaps it was because I finished it and felt like he was still laying most of the blame on the consumer. The food industry produces what it does because we, the consumer, demand it he argues. I do believe and understand supply and demand; I just don’t think it’s really that simple.
I think there are lots of ways (a few the books points out) that the deck is stacked against us. Like government subsidies for things like corn (for High Fructose Corn Syrup) but disallow growing healthier crops. Or the outdated school lunch guidelines that count french fries as vegetables. Yes we make our own choices, but we have to choose from the options laid out before us. In some cases, that is a no win situation.
On a scale of 1-10, I would rate this book a 4. Some bits of interesting information and a couple of good ideas, but somewhat dry and business school oriented. I have a vacation coming up soon and I think In Defense of Food will make excellent plane reading.