Hank Cardello was a food executive for 30 years, until a personal health crisis made him reconsider his own diet. His book, Stuffed: An Insider’s Look at Who’s Really Making America Fat, is a look at how food companies have ignored health to further profit. Cardello declares in the introduction that he will sometimes be harsh on the corporations he formerly worked for, but does not believe they’re fully to blame for America’s current health crisis.
Was it my favorite book? No. I would still recommend it as an interesting perspective on today’s food trends.
When dealing with any large scale problem it’s important to consider the points of view of all parties involved. A solution can only be reached when you meet the needs of a majority of the concerned parties. I felt the book was interesting in that it was an unapologetic take on the current obesity epidemic from the point of view of a food marketer. Hank Cardello spent most of his career figuring out how to get America to buy more high-calorie low-nutrient foods. His time in the corporate food industry has definitely shaped his beliefs towards mass produced food.
Hank considers himself a realist. He thinks people can be healthier enjoying the same types of food they do now, with certain ingredient substitutes. I would concede that this is a starting point for addressing the issue of unhealthy food, but overall sets the bar far too low. Would it be better if hamburgers included omega-3 fatty acids? Probably. Would the food suddenly be good for you? Probably not. Making a healthier junk food doesn’t make up for the fact that you are still eating junk.
The first half of the book is the part worth reading. Cardello delves into the economics of food in America. He explains how food executives formulate strategy and how grocery stores are modeled to encourage the purchase of certain kinds of items. He breaks down fast food menus with relation to profit and explains why most large food companies are resistant to change. Overall, Cardello does a thorough job of explaining how profit and health is currently linked in the food industry.
The weakness in Stuffed comes with the author’s recommendations for creating a healthier national diet. He believes in “Stealth Health,” or not telling the consumer you’ve made “healthy” changes to the menu. He suggests large food companies create a “superfund” to research the food technology needed for such engineered improvements. The idea of companies sacrificing marketing budgets for this fund seems unlikely at best. There’s little discussion of the health-risks that would remain for the consumers. I was disappointed by the cautious and shallow suggestions for improvement laid out in book. I guess that makes me one of Cardello’s dreaded “purists” when it comes to food, a title I am perfectly happy with.