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Stuffed: An Insider's Look at Who's (Really) Making America Fat
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Stuffed: An Insider's Look at Who's (Really) Making America Fat

by Hank Cardello, Doug Garr

It was his job to keep you eating.
It was his job to keep you drinking.
It was his job to keep you buying.
Unfortunately for you, he was good at it.

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


It was his job to keep you eating.
It was his job to keep you drinking.
It was his job to keep you buying.
Unfortunately for you, he was good at it.

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, Stuffed explores 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, Stuffed also 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, Stuffed is 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.

Editorial Reviews

“An interesting look into the psychological world of the ‘Big Food’ business. . . . Stuffed is a great book because it is honest, and Cardello does not mince words when it comes to the reality of our nation’s misguided obsession with food.”
“Anyone who is interested in their health and thinks they’re educated about nutrition needs to read this book.”
“Thought-provoking...informative and filled with clever ideas, [Stuffed] will certainly get people talking and thinking.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Straightforward and sobering. We all know the food industry is big business, but Cardello shows in clear terms just how big it is—with suppliers all over the world—and why this makes it so slow to improve.”
Tom Ryan
“Food companies would be more profitable and keep their customers longer if they adopted the ideas in Stuffed.”
Publishers Weekly

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. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Former food-industry executive and current anti-obesity advocate Cardello calls on his erstwhile colleagues to become custodians of their customers' well-being. Few would deny that obesity is a plague on the land. The question is, what to do about it? The author's answer: Let the food industry clean up the disaster it facilitated. Can the perpetrators reform? Certainly, asserts Cardello, because they won't be surrendering what is most important to them-a fat bottom line. As he points out, they can easily make healthier, just-as-tasty versions of the stuff they now sell, which is slowly killing the hand that feeds that bottom line. Given their lack of table discipline and impulse control, consumers currently inhaling bacon cheeseburgers and washing them down with another 48-ounce soda aren't the answer, Cardello concludes. Nor is the government, which has been at best inept and at worst utterly bewildering regarding food healthiness. Least of all can various agenda-driven groups be trusted to come up with anything other than bad science and pettifogging. Only industry has access to the resources, research and infrastructure to immediately fashion foods offering less caloric and greater nutritional intake, declares the author. All it needs is a mindset that fosters responsible behavior. Will customers, traditionally suspicious of flavorless "healthy" foods, go for the improved regimen? Why even tell them? Cardello proposes a simple switcheroo: "Making a food or beverage more nutritious without bragging about it to the consumer. In fact, keeping consumers in the dark about these improvements might be an even bigger advantage." This Big Brotherish approach raises a number ofquestions. Do flavorings themselves have potential health hazards? Where's the oversight? Who decides what's healthful or not? In addition, the subject of healthy food by ineluctable extension requires addressing environmental and agricultural policy issues, which Cardello avoids. Nonetheless, the point zings home: The food industry knows how to sell; now it has to sell the right thing.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


An Insider's Look at Who's (Really) Making America Fat
By Hank Cardello

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 Hank Cardello
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061363863

Chapter One

A boxcar full of turkeys

It all started with a turkey. Well, actually, not one turkey but many turkeys. The year was 1953. Thanksgiving had passed, the economy was booming, and Christmas shoppers around the country were getting ready to throw down some of their hard-earned cash for a little bit of Christmas cheer.

But the mood wasn't so great at C. A. Swanson & Sons, an Omaha-based frozen food company. Somehow, Swanson had overestimated America's hunger for turkey that Thanksgiving, and they found themselves with more than half a million pounds of unsold turkeys. This would have been a lot of food in any era, but back then it was astronomical. Not to mention that Swanson didn't have enough refrigerated warehouse space to keep the turkeys from spoiling. Facing the prospect of having to write off all these birds as a huge loss, Swanson piled the turkeys into refrigerated boxcars while they searched for a buyer. As the boxcars traveled back and forth from Nebraska to the East Coast, the company's owners looked for a solution that would save them millions of dollars.

As the legend goes, one of their salesmen, Gerry Thomas, had been in Pittsburgh, checking out the catering kitchens of Pan American WorldAirways when he heard about the company's problem. On the flight home, he began doodling, thinking about the hot tray the airline used to keep food warm. Why not use it to keep food cold, he wondered. In his sketches, Thomas ended up designing a three-compartment tray—a sort of takeoff on the old army mess kits, but also something that drew upon the airline's reliance on serving different foods steaming hot. The food in these trays would be kept in the freezer until it was ready to be eaten, at which point it would be heated up and served. In a matter of minutes dinner could be served with little to no preparation.

Initially, nobody at Swanson's headquarters was bowled over by the idea, and they produced only 5,000 of the meals. But eventually they warmed to the concept. They initiated Operation Smash, a national marketing campaign consisting of a blitz of television and print ads. Two headlines read: "Swanson's fixed it for you! Complete turkey dinner on a tray." "My boys are crazy about Swanson TV Dinners."

Soon enough consumers responded with a demand that far outpaced the supply. The company was blindsided by the fact that Americans seemed fascinated by the prospect of eating this new, convenient meal in front of their televisions. And just like that, the TV dinner was born.

Though Swanson did not invent the frozen food concept, its multiple compartments and use of leftover food changed the way the food industry made money and the way America ate its meals. Almost overnight, it seemed that millions of kids were plopped in front of the black-and-white televisions with the aluminum pan in front of them. A few slices of bland turkey in gravy with some cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes, and perhaps the sorriest-tasting—certainly the sorriest-looking—peas on the planet. It wasn't very appealing, but it was convenient, and the postwar generation quickly and steadily bought into this new concept of convenience foods. Mom and Dad had the evening out, and the babysitter stood in as cook and waitress. In its first full year, more than 25 million tins were served in living rooms and kitchens across the nation. A phenomenon was born, and in one single moment, the face of food in this country began to shift.

There are many people who trace the beginning of our national obesity epidemic to the start of the fast-food chain, to a man named Kroc and the Golden Arches that he started in Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1955. While I'm the first to admit that fast food and all of its offshoots played a big role in our current situation, for my money, the story of the Swanson TV dinner holds the real key to understanding why we're so fat. The TV dinner marked a lot of firsts: the first time that we embraced en masse convenience over cuisine; the first time that it was better to be easy than to taste good; the first time that a preprepared (frozen) meal was served ready to heat and eat at home.

But of all these firsts, perhaps the most important, the one that has affected our waistlines and our taste buds the most, is that the Swanson TV dinner marked the first time that a food industry marketing gimmick seduced what might have been our better judgment. After all, the TV dinner was just a way to boost a company's struggling bottom line and cut its losses. On the surface, from a food perspective, there appeared to be little benefit to the consumer. The taste was awful, the food unappealing, and the choices limited. I mean, seriously, who wants to eat frozen Thanksgiving turkey in February?

And yet it turned out that was exactly what a lot of people wanted, and they wanted to do it because of how it had been sold to them. They had been sold on the idea that the convenience of this product was their ticket to a happier life. It had nothing to do with the actual food, and everything to do with the image of the food that had been projected. It had to do with the convenience, the slick packaging, and the easy cleanup. Anytime, anywhere, you could have a meal that you knew. It might not have been a good meal, but at least it was familiar.

The Swanson TV dinner appeared at a moment when our culture was changing how it thought about food. Televisions were making their way into people's homes, and food companies had begun to use this new medium to advertise their products, feeding consumers hungry for new ideas with spoonfuls of new ways to spend money on food. The idea that convenience trumped taste played right into the mind-set of that moment and it was all too infectious—from the boardrooms of the nation's food consortiums to the glass doors of Madison Avenue. Food shopping, which up until then had been more of a local endeavor, started to become a national enterprise, and when people went to the store, there were certain brands they expected to see—the brands from the television commercials.


Excerpted from Stuffed by Hank Cardello Copyright © 2009 by Hank Cardello. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet 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.

Doug Garr is the author of IBM Redux: Lou Gerstner and the Business Turnaround of the Decade. His work has appeared in BusinessWeek, Fortune's Technology Review, GQ, Popular Science, Worth, New York, and MIT's Technology Review. Garr lives in New York.

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