Why I Wrote DEAR OPL- Part 3

*Just a heads up to anyone new joining in–this is not my typical blog post. This is part 3 of 3 for a speech I’m preparing and posting here to get valuable feedback from my community. If you’re interested in joining in (and I so hope you are), and you’ve not had a chance to read part 1 or part 2, you might want to take a minute and get up to speed. I look forward to hearing what all of you have to say. It’s been wonderfully worthy and I thank every one of you for participating!


What’s in it?

My sleuthing skills progressed mainly because food labels showed up. I, therefore, became obsessed in the pursuit of truth.

I suspected that every chemical I read about on the back of a label and couldn’t identify was likely a form of my mother’s mystery ingredients I had to watch out for. The only things I could trust were foods in their whole and original form. And this is something our culture has removed us from in a very real and dangerous way.

Despite the higher intake of calories our western diets have had us adopt, people are hungry. We’re now eating more food than ever before yet we are starving for nutrients. And our bodies are yelling this fact out to us. We’re struggling with these massive and overwhelming cravings for sugar. It’s hugely addictive and, in fact, scientists have discovered rats will work eight times harder to get sugar than they will to get cocaine.

Our average modern diet is not providing the nourishment our bodies require for good health, and because of it, our bodies are suffering more insulin spikes than a tumultuous day on Wall Street.

Basically, we have an abundance of calories, but a shortfall of nutrients.

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I find this to be a shocking and saddening state of affairs, but if you really want to hear something that will make the hair on your arms stand at attention, here’s another one of those eye-popping statistics I alluded to earlier:

The junk food industry spends about 2 billion dollars each year targeting children. One scary study found that elementary school kids in the US see an average of 254 ads from McDonalds each year. That’s just ONE company in the sea of junk food advertisers.

We are bombarded with media that dictates what we want, what we’re hungry for, what gadgets we’re desperate for, what will make us feel better about ourselves or our lives, and what will make us feel included. Kids are targeted even more so. It’s overwhelming and impossible for them to filter these messages or tune them out, and certainly challenging for them to interpret and identify how they are being subtly and not so subtly molded.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now reports that around 12.5 million children aged 2-19 are obese. And this is just in the United States. If you need a mental graphic that’s like nearly the entire population of Ecuador. Or how about this one—two Norways, a Botswana and a Liechtenstein. Worldwide we’re talking about 43 million kids.

Yeah, it’s a lot. Want to elevate that arm fur another notch? The World Health Organization estimates that in ten years time, over 70 million children globally will be obese. And the most alarming surprise? This number is only including children from ages 0 to 5.

Diet-related diseases are the biggest killers of human life. Far bigger than homicides, pneumonia, kidney disease, accidents. The statistics are jaw-dropping.

It makes you want to curl up in a ball and cry, doesn’t it?

Or we can do something about it.

Which brings us to part three: WHAT WE NEED TO DO

  1. No amount of exercise is going to help you run away from a bad diet.

It’s really hard to recognize a problem despite the fact that it’s growing right beneath our noses, mostly because it’s a fairly unremarkable one. It’s not remarkable because it’s become common.

We all know what a dog looks like—we’ve seen gobs of them over our lifetimes. Nothing too terribly novel about them from where we stand right now. But if you woke up one morning and looked outside and spotted a flying dog, you’d probably pause and really study the anomaly … until it wasn’t an anomaly anymore. If pretty soon flying dogs were just as common as grass, then no one would really see them any longer—which is what’s happening to our children. Obesity is becoming familiar, universal and ordinary.

We can’t let this happen.

It would be incredibly easy to point our extra pointy fingers at the heart of the problem and scream until we’re blue in the face at the food industry, but if any of you have ever been in a situation where you’ve pointed a finger at someone and assigned blame, I think you’ll also recall that they didn’t offer either an apology or any available energy to help solve the problem.

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More often than not they likely gave you back a pointy finger as well—but facing in a different direction.

A better response might be to ask for partnership in problem-solving. Our food industries can make food education a top priority of their business. Help us shop, teach us how to cook, educate us about nutrition. A win for the public and a win for their public relations. Besides, it does not show savvy business sense to kill off your clientele.

The restaurant and fast food industry, which have gotten us hooked on the drugs of sugar, fat and salt by targeting consumers with their persuasive advertisements, could help wean us off the extremely unhealthful amounts or face selective taxation from the government to cover the skyrocketing cost of healthcare: a price tag we do not have the funds to pay for—no matter how far down into our purses we dig.

We need restrictions on advertising to children who are most vulnerable to these campaigns. We need to protect those who are easy targets, those who are easily preyed upon, and those who will suffer the most.

Also, we need clearer food labeling—something effortless and easy so consumers don’t have to count grams or teaspoons. Something like the proposed traffic light label. Red for high amounts of free sugars, yellow for mid-level amounts, and green for Go for it, buddy.

We need to give our children LIFE SKILLS. We can get in the kitchen with them, teach them the basics of nutrition, educate them about what they’re eating and illuminate how it will affect the quality and longevity of their lives. It’s going to be a mess, but maybe architects can start making kitchens with a large drain in the middle of the floor which allow you to just hose down the walls after a family cooking session.

We can take the necessary steps to overhaul our school lunch programs. And currently there are a handful of people pioneering over this treacherous landscape who are battling to illustrate that pizza should not be considered a vegetable because it has tomato sauce in it. Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, Michelle Obama and Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio are a few familiar names who have been leading the campaigns of international food revolutions. These folks are shaking up government nutritional guidelines, instituting school garden programs, and proposing ways to lower the cost of healthy foods so that everyone can have access to them. But there are many, many more who are working in the trenches and mostly without a spotlight. We need to support their endeavors.

The three points I’ve highlighted—what we eat, what we know, and what we need to do—are part of a task we need to knuckle down and get busy with—a cause we need to champion. Creating and implementing solutions to our epidemic is a global obligation we owe ourselves, our children and our children’s children.

We need a new killer slogan for our planet. Not a slogan that will kill us.

I propose something like this:

Planet Earth: come for the food, stay for the fun, die when you’re old.

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Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

108 thoughts on “Why I Wrote DEAR OPL- Part 3

  1. Aha, ma’am! You touch a topic close to my heart.. In my last job, and when I got deeper into nutrition, we called this phenomena ‘hidden hunger’.
    I read a book by an American cardiologist, who was fuming when he went to a conference, and the hotel had a heart-friendly diet for adults. Why was he fuming? Because the same hotel had a menu for kids that was full of junk – burgers, chips, colas and the like. As he said, we cure the sick, and prepare the next generation for illness so that we can cure them with pills and a doctor’s love, all the while fattening the wallets of pharma companies / junk food companies / and those who help you slim down..

    • Rajiv, your comment is full of some brilliant bits that set off all my red flags of worry. I love the expression ‘hidden hunger.’ And if you’re okay with it, I think I’ll find a way to incorporate it into the speech.
      Also, I’m wholly on board with the cardiologist. I think he represents the feeling of a growing swath of people. The way he presented his complaint was precise and perfect in my book. Another good point I may have to find a way to weave in – or at least bring up in the Q & A section.
      A million thanks for your viewpoint, Rajiv. Clearly, you’ve given me some wonderful food for thought.

      • Cheers. Oh yes, use the term “hidden hunger”. it is used by nutritionists, the UN, etc..
        My company certainly did not come up with that.
        However, I have a whole view on how they handle this, globally

        • I really agree with the use of this term ‘hidden hunger’. I have eaten ‘healthy’, or so I thought, all my life, and kept my weight down to what the charts say it should be, and when I turned 60 I realised I was just always hungry. But it wasn’t until I made drastic changes to my diet a couple of years ago, favouring lots of vegetables and upping the protein, and paid particular attention to the source of the foods, that I stopped feeling hungry all the time. And by the way, have been much healthier since then!!

          • Yeah… Well, I am an engineer. I spent years in food, nutrition and health. I started managing my own food intake after years.. In the process, I messed up my metabolic system..

  2. Hey Shelley,

    I really loved the “flying dogs vs obesity” parallel. How very, very sad, yet true – and I found these to be powerful, memorable words! Great job in wrapping up your speech and bringing it back to where you started. (Some speakers forget to do this.)

    Good luck with the final product and your presentation to the masses. I’m sure you’ll knock their socks off.


    • Thank you, Clare, for all your sage advice – on and offscreen – as it’s already making a difference in the final draft. Fingers crossed the ‘powerful and memorable’ have a small ripple effect and will create a shift in movement. Sometimes I think that what I’m saying is information everybody already knows, but often it’s just the way it’s presented that can make a difference. I hope my method is the answer for some.

      • One thought I’d like to share: I think it’s so sad that a healthy ham and salad sandwich costs double, sometimes triple, that of a ‘happy meal’ that not only comes with a drink and chip, but also entices children with the inclusion of a small toy. I can understand why parents head straight for the cheaper option when you can feed three for the price of one.

        What I can’t understand is why a healthy option has to be, and is, so expensive. If we can get away from the ‘junk food’ eating out culture and turn back towards the affordable and ‘healthy’ eating in one, it’s at least one small step in the right direction.

        The way in which information is presented does make all the difference, and I believe you’re on a winner. I can’t wait to read Dear Opl 🙂

        • It’s growing complaint, Clare, the controversy of cost. I do, however, hear that some people are creating plans and making proposals and starting to implement these ideas into test-sized portion areas. I’m hoping to hear about increasing success with the ideas of bringing affordable, nutritious food to “food deserts,” low-income residential areas and a growing swath of schools. Movement is being made in the right direction. Have hope!

  3. What we need is a big brand name that appeals to the public- especially children- to espouse healthy food and start advertising it on TV. As children start to nag parents that this is what they want for tea, we’ll have less fears about letting them. For someone like McD’s to stop putting the dangerous additives in their food may seem like suicide in their business but in fact could be a massive hit not just with the children who want to eat it but with the parents who would give such a company their backing. Maybe even tax incentives for the healthy food corporations and penalties for those that add the ingredients of obesity.
    It’s a Worldwide problem these days and the worries of children’s diabetes is enormous so getting a leading company on board is the way forward. There must be one out there with an eye to the profit margins of the future that doesn’t include the banner ‘Child Killer’.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • I love your idea about the tax incentives for corporations who are working toward healthier products, David, as all I’ve been hearing about thus far have been tax punishments for those who contribute negatively. It’s a thought I’m going to put into the final draft as a speech note from you. 🙂
      I’m sure this topic is something close to home for you as we have to keep that beautiful boy the healthiest and as irresistibly energetic as we can. If Reuben were a food, he’d be gobbled up in a heartbeat.

  4. I haven’t read a word, yet, but Rob’s first cartoon was what popped up in my WP reader and it’s a perfect illustration of the problem – is there a way to have that up behind you as you talk?

    Right, off to read now… 🙂

  5. OK, I’ve read it and had a little ponder. My first thought is that I might tweek it here and there depending on who the audience will be. I might take out the word ‘scary’ when you’re talking about the study that found how many ads elementary school children see – if you have anyone in your audience connected with the advertising industry in any way then I assume you’ll want them on your side, and telling them that their (as they see it) success is scary might turn them off and stop them from listening to the rest, which would be a shame as you say you want to work with people in the food industry etc later on.

    I was also wondering about the paragraph which ends with sugar being x8 more addictive than cocaine to rats. That fact is what draws all the previous ideas together – how we’ve somehow got stuck on filling ourselves with junk instead of nutrients, but it doesn’t really make sense until the sugar fact turns up at the end. Would it be better to turn that paragraph on its head and start with the sucker punch fact – then go on to say, ‘that helps to explain why we’re starving of nutrients despite eating more than ever before’ etc etc?

    • Great point about the ad statistic, Laura. You’re the second person who picked up on that. Clearly, that would cut my chances of connecting with that portion of people right off at the knees. I’ll rework that bit.
      And yes, I like the idea of rearranging the sugar/cocaine para as well. Another edit I’ll happily apply.

      Thanks for all the great feedback, Laura. I so appreciate the investment of time and your efforts on my behalf. This has been a wonderful project to work on with everyone.

  6. Standing up, clapping and whooping. Great conclusion. Will you have the G-mans cartoons to accompany? I am giving you an amen on banning advertisements of junk food aimed at younger children and an hallelujah chorus on a slogan such as yours. Wishing you a tonne of good Cheergerm vibes. As nerve wrecking as public speaking is, I really feel that your humour and warmth will shine and have people listening with their ears wide open.

    • I love your comments, Cheergerm. They’re always infused with a pocketful of sunshine. If we could simply smush you down to pill size and make you a daily dose of motherly love, I do believe the world would wake up happier for it.

  7. I really am astounded by the statistics you use in this one, Shelley. What really struck me about them was not only the actual stat, but how you’ve made them so easy (and indeed almost fun) to understand……with such a big problem as the subject of your pieces, this is your gift and your difference….to inject humour into the pieces wherever you can so that people can’t resist reading. I also really enjoyed your/Rob’s play on the slogan “Where the Old People/Wild Things Are.” Same thing here….injecting that humour and it works so well.

    My own opinion on how to play this game of converting people back to healthy food consumption especially regarding children is that we’re going to have to make all those Green (a.k.a. Go for it, buddy) foods something of a status symbol somehow…..even now, alot of the yummy mummies already espouse that their child only eats “organic” etc., but half the time they have no idea about how misleading that “organic” food tag can be.

    Lastly, because I’m not greatly a fan of MO’s new “food plate” theory, it did put me off a bit that this was charted out as an example….it may be true that she’s going up against the normal food industry and trying to make the difference, but this isn’t the most shining example I can think of to use here. I’ve not ever been a fan of forcing people into something and that’s pretty much what this program tries to do – not educate, not give life skills, just eliminate the options “she/the program” has decided are bad. That inclusion did put me off a bit…..
    To make this change happen, I think it needs to be a matter of free choice and to gain that a book like yours is definitely the trendsetter to education that in my opinion can change minds and open eyes toward making those better choices.

    Just my opinions since you asked. Did very much enjoy reading as always!

    • Clarifications…..I said your book, I meant your speech. I think I got it in my head early on that this SHOULD be a book. And second, concerning the food plate opinions….I was mostly speaking of the changes in the school lunch program that have been implemented. Okay, I feel much better now having clarified that! Sorry to take up all your commenting space! 🙂

    • Torrie, you brought up an excellent point about the MyPlate program–which I feel is not an example I suggest parents employ. The criticisms reflect that it is riddled with ambiguity and some misleading info. I think Harvard did a rework of the plate and redubbed their final efforts as ‘The Healthy Eating Plate.’ Not particularly catchy, but it does demonstrate a version of eating that is directed at creating a healthier consumer rather than supporting subsidized crops. I’ll have to clarify.
      I do, however, like the gardening and the ‘get to know your farmer’ programs.
      Regardless, I’ll revisit that section to create some distinction.
      Love your thoughts and I truly appreciate all you’ve contributed.
      Many thanks, Torrie, for your help and efforts.

  8. Very interesting and thought-provoking. I like the flying dog analogy if only for how à propos it fits. It’s easy to be fatalistic about things and say it’s too late to change but if one does not EVEN try, it’s worse!

  9. Well that got everyone’s attention. I am never too comfortable with the Government having more control in our lives. Nor do I like a one size fits all approach( no pun intended).in any large scale problem. Knowledge and education are crucial. I think attitudes are as well. The reasons I was a fatty were probably quite numerous,none of which was the eating of too much processed food. Don’t get me wrong I agree that the type of food we eat is more important than the quantity. I believe the whole thing started in order to keep pace with the Nuclear family. Want veggies in the winter? We got ’em;canned and later frozen. Too busy to make dinner? Here, try Swanson’s TV dinner. Are these foods inherently wrong for us? Not as much as the foods developed in labs. Just add water cake mixes? Really? Back.”in the day” in the US we had many more two parent families. There was an adult around to cook. Also we had parents that didn’t give in to the whims of their children. Teach kids how to cook. Teach parents how to shop. Companies won’t sell stuff that don’t sell. It’s a complex issue and I have gone on too long,without really making much of a point.

    • I agree, Benson, that handing over trust to a body of people who have a track record for not exactly putting the people FIRST is an eye-roller of an idea. I think history suggests we’ve done that idiotic maneuver a few too many times.
      And convenience is one of those things that have built up a growing population of people who are fed through the model of instant gratification. I have a hard time seeing the benefits of this lifestyle principle. Cooking in one’s own kitchen to make a healthy meal does not have to require that you lose vacation days at work. Simple, quick and delicious are three concepts that do work together in harmony.
      As always, a thousand thanks for your spin on what’s happening and how you see it, Benson. I truly appreciate reading your words. Cheers!

      • I’m not saying that the time element is pertinent now. I am saying that was the rationale for making the fast food industry so large in the beginning. Quite often that is an excuse for buying carry out. As you said too many people find benefits in that “life style” that do not exist.

        • You don’t think the time element is a factor now? Is there some other reason you believe (other than the fact that the ingredients have proven to be addictive) the fast food industry is still so compelling to people?
          Or have I misunderstood your comment?

          • I am saying that people can find time for what they want to do. The fast food ingredients are addictive and the convenience is addictive as well. If someone doesn’t know how easy it is to cook, Doesn’t realize the it can be fun for the whole family to participate they are going to buy carryout. I think.According to the CDC the percentage of obese kids increases as they get older. Is there a reason for that?

              • I would think that most 2 to 5 years old,if they are in school are in private day care. As the child gets older and becomes part of public school the percentage increases. Also, as they get older they are able to move around on their own and think more on their own. In theory. So how to get a teenager to want to eat something other than a fast food burger or the like? Education, availability and cost. That may help. This has been going on for far too long. It won’t be a quick fix. Would it help to bring back phys ed and home ec?

                    • One reason is because there isn’t enough parent support to push this back on the table as a valuable and vital part of education. It doesn’t have nearly as flashy a look as say AP Calculus and Organic Chemistry when trying to build an enticing university resume–and many opinions have swayed school officials into believing that Home Economics is a course that should be taught at home. After school sports has taken the place of many Phys Ed classes, and kids can find a variety of ways to get excused from that requirement as well. It depends upon where you live and what sort of school system you belong to.
                      It’s a complex issue and one I’ve sat in many an auditorium hearing people argue over.

  10. Shelley, all your readers above give great advice which I second. Your mission and enthusiasm as well as your book are commendable. At the school level, I have seen a shift in the last 10 years to use farmer’s market produce and promote healthy eating. Advocates and partnerships are the key for slow changes. Awareness, nutrition classes at the elementary years are important. Like literacy programs, say, Head Start programs, which provide skills before they enter school, the same approach could target obesity. Developing life skills is the long term answer. I hope your book is read by all children.

    • You’re right, Cindy, there are pockets of places where healthy, implemented school lunch programs are beginning to make a difference. But the pace of progress is that of a snail with a limp and they’re continually facing challenges I come across and find they’ve led me to do at least a dozen face palms. Sometimes the budgets are the issue. The cafeterias can’t get enough staff, time or money to create the menu that will truly benefit the kids. More often than not, I’ve discovered that the issues are more about food safety. Can they trust the source? The local farms aren’t regulated enough for school officials or parents. So they go back to feeding their schoolkids dishes that contribute to long-term disease.
      There’s got to be a better way.
      But with enough brains and brawn, I know we’ll figure it out.
      Thanks for all your wonderful thoughts, Cindy!

  11. Hopefully you will have an opportunity to clarify the vast difference between Bad Fats (Artificial and Trans-) and Good Fats (Natural Dairy and Meats), to explore the outrageously high Carbohydrate amounts proposed by government-approved “nutritionists”, and to have a better look at the depleted Protein in our diets advocated by anti-meat groups; before the final product, which should be widely distributed. Every parent should be reading your work!

    • This is definitely an area I’m hoping will come up in the Q & A to follow the speech, Carol, as I think there’s so much ambiguity for a lot of people it ends up being an issue rife with misconception. Finding the right way to illustrate the difference might be a series of trial and error on my part. But I agree, it’s a critical component that needs to be addressed.
      Thanks so much for your comment. It’s going on my to-do list.
      And another thank you for your incredible support. A true daymaker of a comment. 🙂

  12. A great coda to your three-part series. Lots of ideas to poke and prod others to consider about our collective welfare. I think Benson hits the mark squarely, however. No education and sincere diet change can truly be made without parents (i.e. mothers mostly) really making the first serious move. We’re not living in a Leave it to Beaver world anymore, and in that predominant two-income family now, convenience is what matters the most. While kids should be taught, it’s got to really begin at home with healthy examples. And *that* will be the greatest challenge.

    Now, on to reading Dear OPL…

    • You’ve made a great point about how the family structure has altered in such a way that we’ve morphed into something far from the 50’s and 60’s family life model. And making the determination that a reprioritization is in order is a hefty challenge for a lot of people. Especially those who have gotten used to the idea of dinner being something eaten in the car on their way to another activity. Rededicating space to the family supper is an initiative that has got to gain some collective steam globally. It’s slipping away.
      Many thanks for adding to the narrative of this story, S. I truly appreciate all your thoughts. Cheers!

  13. Hi, Shelley! As others have mentioned, I loved the flying dogs and Rob’s first cartoon, which pretty much says it all. I think the flow of this section is working really well. A couple of things I thought about…I have seen stats about how children under eight are more susceptible to advertising, and I’m sure your argument could be bolstered even further there by a judicious statistic. When I read about “pointy fingers” I thought of the point that we (as parents) are also to blame, for prizing convenience over the effort of cooking. This is where teaching our kids “life skills” fits in. It’s a partnership between us, the schools, the government, and the food industry. There’s enough blame to go around, but think of how powerful it would be if we solved it together.

    Love that final slogan! All the best with your speech, Shelley. 🙂

    • More sage points, Sue. I’m going to have to rework that Mickey D line and might try to find some other way of highlighting the volume of ads along with the demographic of those most affected by them.
      And including parents under the umbrella of responsibility is a good idea as well.
      Back to work, love the edits, and of course, I’m filled with gratitude for all your contributed professional skills, Sue. What a difference they will make.

  14. I’ve always loved an expression I first heard at ACAC: “Live long; die young”. Of course, the body has to have appropriate fuel to get there. All of the things on the “to do” list you describe are steps in the right direction. And I’ve seen quite a few local grassroots endeavors in this direction. As a bumper sticker I used to see fairly often (but not so much recently, come to think of it) said, “Think globally; act locally”. Maybe start a new bumper sticker saying “Think globally; act locally; eat real local food”.

    On the other hand, I’ve known a family over several decades who are all obese and addicted to sugar (like three teaspoons of sugar in a cup of coffee). They’re plenty intelligent, and know what they need to do, and at least one of them is trying, but the others just don’t seem to care. What they crave to eat is highest priority and they’ve had an overly stressful, limited income life for a very long time so it’s just easier to fall back on the old, familiar, less expensive things to buy.

    So I sorta see both sides of this and can understand why some people seem caught up in a “revolving door” and don’t have ready access to a way out. Doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t keep trying to spread the message!

    Great project and great writing! Keep up the good work.


    • Would it surprise you to find out, Rhea, that the average American now ingests somewhere between 25-30 teaspoons of sugar per day? I was rather floored the first time I heard that number. The WHO is hoping to get that number closer to 6. But how that’s going to occur without some major rehaul on our manufacturing side in order to influence our consumer side is beyond me.
      A work in progress. But necessary efforts for us all.
      Thanks so much for your thoughts and comments on the speech, Rhea. I always, always love hearing what you have to say.

  15. Such a good section Shelley to round off your speech, I think everyone has said all the pertinent things I can think of except perhaps that there needs to be a big shift away from the notion that healthy eating requires a load more time spent – it just doesn’t and it would be great perhaps to hook up with someone who could present in enjoyable form, some of those simple healthy recipes to join in the campaign you’re so valiantly championing. (Perhaps Rob could illustrate them? Just an idea 🙂 ) Wishing you lots of luck 🙂

    • Thank you, Jane, for the wonderful support you’ve provided during the last 3 weeks here, and I agree that some focus must be impressed upon the myth that good health cannot be achieved unless one has ample time and money. Not enough people are aware of the facts. And although I could easily demonstrate plenty of cooking options and techniques for kids whilst visiting schools or libraries, I think it would be more meaningful and fun to have another individual participate in delivering that message. Cafeteria staff, local chef, the principal. Noodling on that idea …

      • Precisely Shelley! I’ve expressed my thought very poorly there because that is really what I meant! impossible to be the writer, the chef the bottle washer the al; all at the same time!

  16. You have an amazing group of readers here, who provided great feedback on your piece along with interesting perspectives of their own. I have no doubt that your personal charm, intelligence, passion and humor will captivate anyone who listens.

    I’m someone who would like to eat healthier than I do, and feel guilt over many of the poor food choices we’ve fallen into as a family. Knowledge and education are a big part of the equation, but figuring out how to start over is daunting. I’ve never used cocaine, but can certainly relate to the rat voting for sugar time and again. That’s an excellent visual.

    Rob’s illustrations are spot on: the long, pointed finger, calories vs nutrition and the Wild Things riff at the end. You two collaborate beautifully.

    • Yep. Guilt. A word that just by saying it can induce a whopper amount of negative emotion and we immediately find a slew of mental pictures that whizz through our head on a silent projector screen. Food is so tied to our emotions. And advertisers know this. Many have well-funded departments that house people doing research on how to exploit and use that data to their favor. And starting over is something most are hoping you will not attempt.
      Personally, Alys, I’m a big fan of starting over as many times as is necessary in order to see some positive change–even if it’s not a permanent one just yet. It’s the movement in the right direction and the proof positive that a little will can go a long way.
      So glad you like Rob’s sketches. He’s doen a brilliant job for this whole series.
      Cheers ❤

        • Ah! Well done, you!
          That is a toughie.
          When my kids’ friends come to visit, I usually serve the soda happy crowds 1/2 juice and 1/2 sparkling water. They come back for more, so I’m guessing it doesn’t totally suck.
          I’m rooting for you, Alys.

            • Ooh, Alys, I go totally swoony for kombucha. I usually make my own in the summertime, but lately there are a bazillion companies coming online who are making some super delicious drafts. I hope you have a chance to try a few more. It’s somewhat of an acquired taste, but then again, so are a lot of wonderful things.

    • i agree w/”Born” : that (until now) you’ve seemingly got a bunch of helpful feedback, more talking points?, more ‘flesh’ to fill out talking points, etc. good luck and Goddess-speed, Crusaderess !

      • Yes, sir, there certainly have been some exceptional comments during the last three weeks, and the feedback has been superb. Thanks for the well-wishes, Jay, and all the time you’ve invested with your terrific observations.

  17. I could hug you for shining a light on this epidemic, Shelley. Your speech will kick ass. Wish I could listen to it first hand.

    xoxo nancy

    p.s. your readers’ comments are also fantastic.

  18. I’ve worked with foster kids who’ve never been in a restaurant other than MacDonalds. They literally have no idea how to order from a menu. I’ve gone into homes with stacks of empty pizza boxes and KFC piled high next to the door. It’s a huge problem.

    • A little sad how a growing number of American homes are gaining a strong resemblance to the inside of a fraternity. Sad, Jan. Here’s to making the pendulum swing in the other direction.

  19. You’ve got a lot of good comments. I really love all the stat’s. One of the things I hear about all the time in work with food banks is how expensive it can be to eat right; how difficult it can be in some neighborhoods to get to a real grocery store. It’s a problem with many facets, all reflecting a different complexity: time, money, convenience and after years of it, downright ignorance of some things. I talked to a social worker years ago who had been helping a woman with finances and other issues. One of the ways the woman spent too much money was in eating out because she didn’t cook. The social worker had some extra tomatoes and gave the woman with a recipe for spaghetti sauce. Next time she saw her, the woman was excited about how delicious the sauce was. Social worker asked if she had frozen the extra sauce for later use and learned the woman had thrown it out. Didn’t think she could save it… It’s hard to fathom that, but things like that are part of the whole larger problem. Not for inclusion in your speech, just elaborating!

    • You’ve actually hit on an incredibly important point, Lisa–the fact that we just “assume” people already know. One of my fears is that by highlighting some downright basic principles of nutrition I could come across as offensive to an audience who has a larger depth of knowledge leaving them feeling ‘talked down to’, or bore them to tears, or that I’d assume folks know what I’m talking about and find out later that I skipped out on some necessary building blocks that could have been valuable to help them sort out some answers for their family’s situations.
      I do think many events will have to be trial and error on my part–maybe start off with a super quick three-question quiz that can give me a better feel for where the audience sits.
      Thanks for sharing the story. It’s incredibly relevant.

  20. Shelley, I think the message that you’re putting out there is SO important, and the way you combine your own brand of humor with the cold, hard facts makes for both an entertaining as well as informative speech! My suggestion? You should have a powerpoint or slideshow to accompany your speech when you travel and present to kids, parents, and teachers. I could picture certain images in my mind as I read that would really hammer home your points. It would also provide another opportunity for humor with your cartoons and funny photos (like “old-timey” pics of grandma in the kitchen). Photos of actual ingredients would be great, too, contrasting with the “fake food” so many of us eat!
    I couldn’t agree with you more about how disturbing the food industry has gotten. Since my son has autism as well as food allergies to peanuts, eggs, and soy, we are SUPER careful about the foods we buy now. It really forces us to read each label carefully and stay as close to natural as possible. We can’t avoid sugars and fats altogether, but I spend a lot less time in the “middle aisles” of the grocery store where all the processed foods are…and I think my whole family is better for it!

    • Boy, Jen, you really pack a wonderful punch into your comments. The slideshow/powerpoint bit is definitely in the works, although if I’m someplace that has no AV equipment, I’m thinking I’ll just do a ‘show and guess’ quiz at some point. Bring out fruits and veg and see how many kids know what everything is. Sometimes it’s rather shocking to see the lack of exposure illustrated in their guesses. But it’s a good step toward filling in those blanks and maybe stirring a little curiosity.
      And the middle aisles? My mom’s rule of thumb, when we were kids, was to only shop the O-ring. Gotta stay outside those middle aisles as much as possible. She said her budget would go up in smoke otherwise.
      Obviously, you’ve had a LOT of experience with figuring out what’s going to work best for your little fella. I’m sure all your efforts are making a difference.
      Cheers, Jen!

      • The fruit and veggie quiz sounds like a great idea! I could probably use a little schooling in that myself, as I found myself wandering around the produce section looking for green onions for a recipe not too long ago. I found yellow onions and red onions… no green onions. The produce guy had to help me. (I thought those things were called scallions! Am I wrong about that?) Anyway, I’m hopeless in the kitchen. Best to leave the cooking to my hubby, lol! 🙂

        • Scallions and green onions are pretty much the same plant and just a labeling preference for your market. Chives, on the other hand, are a different species–a little onion and a little garlic in those green herby stalks. Yum to all. And when it all comes down to it, if you like the look, the smell, and the taste, I say go for it. Mix ’em up. Doesn’t matter if you’re simply doing a little home cooking for the fam.

  21. Shelley, you write eloquently and powerfully on the subject. I’m assuming that your intended audience for these three pieces is adult. As I read about your entertaining childhood food experiences in Part 2, it struck me that this would be a good entry point for a talk directed at the target audience for Dear Opl. I’m sure you’ve already though of this for school visits etc, and I’m sure it’s a message teachers could integrate into multiple subject lessons plans. I applaud your excellent intentions. Bravo.

    • Thanks so much for the beautiful compliments, Melissa–those words bring me a great deal of confidence going forward. And yes, I broke the speech (for adults) up into three parts simply to get feedback in small chunks and not overwhelm anyone reading.
      I hadn’t thought about that childhood food bit as a part for my kid talks, but it’s a fabulous suggestion. And I’m going to use it!
      Thankfully, the publishers and I have already put together a study/discussion guide for educators if they indeed decide to make it a classroom or a school-wide book project. Getting kids to think collectively and work toward something “different” together rather than solo can make a world of a difference in regards to the outcome. I so hope that becomes a reality.
      Cheers, Melissa!

  22. *claps* Great! Bravo! I think the food label thing is the hugest deal for me. I want to know that ‘natural indredients’ really means natural, as in you peeled that orange and those peels are adding the flavor, not a variation of the chemical construction developed in a lab (and really… how is that cheaper?!)

    • (Insert tiny bow and embarrassing flush) Thanks, Alex. Your endorsement means a lot to me.
      And yes, ugh, food labels. I feel like I’d be better off hauling Sherlock Holmes with me when heading to the grocery store most days–although if Benedict Cumberbatch were handling the role, I’d likely begin to enjoy the sleuth work.

  23. Bravo too! I’ve recently been scouring supermarket shelves for things without sugar but it’s harder than you would think – even cracker biscuits and soy milk have got the stuff in!

    • A million thanks for the support. 🙂
      And yes, at times I believe that my eyebrows will soon remain in that ‘raised nearly to my hairline’ position. I can’t count how often I turn over a “healthy food” item to read its ingredient list and find some form of sugar. It’s everywhere.

  24. Brava! I agree with your prescriptions, especially about the life skills. I would like to see young people taught to cook in school. In my opinion everyone should have to take a course on personal finance, and another one (or two) on basic nutrition and cooking. It’s just as important as “physical education.”

    • Thanks so much, Linnet. I’m really happy you feel this is heading in the right direction.
      I remember a conversation I had with my daughter’s fifth grade math teacher in the beginning of the school year when she phoned to tell me that Chloe had asked to be moved up into a higher math class because she wasn’t feeling “challenged.”
      The teacher was incredibly suspicious that I had put my child up to this – as the preparations for college in our school began with the interview for kindergarten. I think I truly deflated her interpretation of my intelligence when I answered, “No, ma’am, My goal for my kids is to complete high school knowing how to balance their checkbooks, pinch a pie crust and slide into home base. Everything else is just gravy.” 🙄

  25. Very interesting Shelley. I too feel it must me mandatory to teach ‘Life Skills’ to students in schools. The challenge however is get skilled teachers who not only must be committed but also have the ability to make their instructions interesting and imaginative. Teachers must avoid the preaching mode.

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts and cheers 🙂

    • Funny, Dilip, I was just talking to an English professor about this yesterday, and we were discussing just how many teachers we’ve had who have poisoned potential avenues of great discovery for us over the years simply because they were too tired to care about their subject, or simply didn’t have the spark a great teacher might possess and pass on to his or her student.
      Teachers are critical, but great teachers are unforgettable.

  26. Well, all of that, parts 1, 2 and 3 needed to be said! It’s funny and motivational at the same time. No one wants the pointy finger, and you won’t deliver one. I just know it. In my family, we cook. We garden. We exercise. But this didn’t happen until my husband (normal weight, young, normal cholesterol, no family history) suffered a heart attack (age 49). We started reading and learning. We’re vegan now. We hear every day, “Oh, I could never do that.” “I don’t have time for that.” “I can’t afford that.” We wish we could say, you could, you do and you can. (What’s cheaper than rice and beans?) But alas, our society is all set up for failure. It IS true fast food is cheapest and fastest. It IS true we are hurried. (I’m trying to bring back siesta, but no one is having it.) I have many advantages others don’t have. Time and money are two. But something needs to change. We want to be old. We really do.

    • I WANT TO BRING BACK SIESTA!! Oh, Susan, I am so on your bandwagon with this one. I think the cultures that make this a part of their everyday have figured out a blissful secret that so many of the rest of us just can’t seem to understand. Sleep is a godsend. A cat nap in the middle of the day recharges absolutely everything (for me).
      And I love your goal to be old. I so wish others could see that as a worthy one too–to be old and healthy enough to enjoy it.
      A million thanks for reading and sharing, Susan. Such a treat to see your words.

      • I’m always jealous when I hear about other cultures placing priority on relaxing and vacation and everyday mealtime. It’s a point you made well in your piece…mealtime. My ears perk up whenever I hear about cures for the mid afternoon slump. The cures involve caffeine and snacks. Why not a nap? Companies discourage napping at the desk! Silly companies! But what a wonder a nap does for health (and energy).

  27. I remember at school being taken to task for being overweight (I was a good stone lighter than someone 3 inches shorter than I was, but her parents were on the Board of Governors). Today, it would be classed as bullying, albeit by a teacher, but the damage was done. I was told I was a glutton because I enjoyed my food, I was made to feel a pig if I asked for seconds, I felt guilty for having a sweet tooth, and thus started the merry go round of insecurity, lack of confidence, embarrassment about eating ANY food (or worse anyone seeing me eat food), and the added insults of not being good at sports and being made to run further and faster than my classmates, passing out and being told when I came to that if I wasn’t so fat, it wouldn’t happen. I was 14, weighed just over 10 stones, and stood five feet seven tall.
    This is what a lot of kids face every day. It’s a mistake to assume someone is fat because they eat too much. There could be underlying health issues, or they are actually not eating enough.
    IMO we are totally ignorant of food, food groups, healthy options, balance, variety, combinations, and FUN preparing and cooking what we eat. Diets are boring, restrictive, repetitive, soul destroying, especially when you do all the right things and nothing happens, or worse, the scales go off in the wrong direction. Individuality also needs to be taken into account, life style, limitations, allergies, likes, dislikes.
    Doctors’ computer tick lists, charts and expected conformity should be banned.
    Food labels are confusing and need to be simplified.
    The food industry has a new generation to cater for. They know the problems, but cut corners with cheaper ingredients or substitutes. They argue about cost effectiveness, profit margins, and production processes. It all comes down to money. In short, being good for you, comes at a price. That too needs to be addressed as well as the actual food itself. (I’ll get off my box now). 🙂

    • I think you’ve beautifully illustrated some of the heartbreakingly sad ways people have interpreted the obesity epidemic in the past and how there’s still such a vast amount of misunderstanding with the problem. I’m guessing you’ve heard the term “fat shaming” before. It definitely sounds like you were the victim of that kind of behavior. It’s a terrible experience for anyone to have to live through, and I’m so sorry to hear of it.
      Clearly, we’ve got a long way to go with educating our friends and families (and myriad others) on the topic of how to help with this growing problem. Education is key, strength is needed to help wean us off the high fat/sugar/salt addictions we struggle with, and a heart full of compassion will be greatly appreciated by all.
      I hope we can make some solid movement forward.
      Thanks for all your wonderful comments and for sharing this eye-opening story.

  28. What a speech you’ve put together! If you hear someone shouting, “Encore, encore!” in the back, that will be me. A few specific points: 1. If that’s what old people are looking like in a future of healthy food consumption, I’m looking forward to the future. 2. Loving the visual comparisons when the large numbers pop up. 3. The Daily Table which is currently operating in Dorchester, Massachusetts, USA is a wonderful example of someone working in the trenches for a healthier, affordable, and less wasteful society. Here’s to the success of you and all the other voices clamoring for a world where food maintains a meaningful part of our culture and our community.

    • A million thanks, B for the great tip on the Daily Table. I’m planning some time in my schedule today to research their organization.
      And I’m really hoping to hear you in the back of the hall at the end of my speech. Even if it’s just a psychological cheering existing only in my mind, it will surely help to keep me motivated.

  29. I know you’re right, Shelley. Yet, I can’t help going for those one-serving cups of flavored yogurt. Sure, yogurt should be healthy, but add the sugar for the fruit that’s in it so it isn’t sour and a couple of preservative chemicals for longer shelf and refrigerator life, and it isn’t healthy anymore. Still, they cut the in-between meal craves so I grab one out of the frig. 😦

    • It’s hard to retrain one’s tongue to enjoy something that we’ve been conditioned to believe should be sweet–and those mouthwatering yogurt flavors are a real challenge to replace!
      With my kids, I tried finding yogurts that were ‘fruit juice’ sweetened or I bought plain and made a mashup of some of the seasonally ripe and available fruits in the market – or even better, bought frozen fruit, put it in the blender and used that to swirl into the plain. At least this way, I knew we were getting the benefit of the cultures in the yogurt, the vitamins and fiber from real fruit and none of all that goodness was canceled out by added free sugars.
      It’s an extra step or two, but if you do it in bulk it’s minimal effort.
      I understand it’s not for everyone, Glynis, but I thought I’d throw that suggestion out there to you and see what you think of it.

  30. I know you are very smart, Shelley, but I had no idea rats were so smart–trying eight times harder to get the sugar than the cocaine!! These are startling statistics but all you have to do is look around you to realise there is something dramatically wrong, and will continue to be until we make serious changes. Some of us bloggers are trying from different perspectives to contribute to the conversation, and your book will really add to that conversation as well. Let’s celebrate with a dish of well cooked organic fennel! No, seriously, it’s so good, and I’m guessing most people have never tried it. It’s not snails, people, its a nice vegetable. Love your work, Shelley.

    • Consider us members of a mutual admiration society, Ardys, for I’m a big fan of what comes out of your kitchen and the way you marry the subject of hunger and health. I’m also a fan of fennel, but if it was on your menu and sprouted from your healthy hearth, I’d happily eat a bowl of hemp flavored pillow stuffing. 🙂 You’ve got the magic touch.

  31. Sorry to be so long in commenting. I’ve been away from home having some grandma time.

    Yes, hidden sugar and sugar addiction are a real worry – for obesity and dental health. Some steps have been taken by the UK government to raise awareness and to get manufacturers to male labelling more honest and easy to understand, but there’s a way to go yet.

    I wish you well on your mission, Shelley – you’ve certainly got the knowledge, passion and great communication skills required to get your message across – and all the best with the book.

    • Always grateful to hear what you have to say, Anne, whether it’s right out of the gate, or long after the crowds have packed up and gone home. Every bit of it is important to me. So thank you.
      And yes, you bring up a good point I keep forgetting I need to insert in the speech – that of dental health. Cheers for that.
      I will take those well-wishes and run like the deil wi’ them. 🙂
      Big hug, Anne, and thanks!

  32. “3. no amount of exercise is going to help you run away from a bad diet.” is a great, friendly, and funny synopsis of your entire speech shelley. if this were your opener you would have my rapt attention from the get go (but you usually do anyway)!

    and if dogs do learn to fly, we would also learn to look where we walk and not just where we step.

    • Well then, I’m wondering if maybe I have to flip a few things around, Mac. So good to hear your two cents worth, as it always makes me smile (especially so with the added extra visual today).

  33. I am very late to this party and have some thoughts ( although far from virtuous in the food department and a little heavier than I’d like!) Recently research has suggested that obesity may start in the womb of overweight mothers- certainly a difficult subject to introduce without the orchestra of guilt. But one thing that stands out is films ( or photographs) of children during the war, hardly an obese child to be seen. The same is true of so called ‘primitive’ societies. These might help convey the speed of the changes, and their link to ‘affluent’ Western degeneration. New home building might incorporate a shared alotment allocation so that a community would support vegetable gardening, and its shared obligations! In many ways the secluded nuclear family is also part of the problem.

    I think your humour and slogans are a great way to convey this but it strikes me that your non-judgemental language is something that is worth ‘selling’ in its own right. Those concerned about the problem need to employ you to express their concerns more tellingly. Humour is the strongest language of all.

    P.S. Thanks for visiting my review which is what brought this return discovery.

    • I cannot tell you how grateful I am, Philippa, to have your thoughts expressed on this rough draft of my speech. As it is still a work in progress, I value all input, and yours has certainly added notable worth and given me a few new directions to explore before closing the cover on this growing body of words. Many thanks for the additional theories.

      And as far as your work is concerned, although I am new to your treasure trove of compositions, I’m wholly delighted and intrigued beyond measure. There’s a component of your writing and ideas that reminds me a little bit of Jean Houston, and I admire her ability to bring science and art to a place that mutually exist and compliment one another.

      I look forward to reading many more of your words, Philippa. Cheers!

      • I have listened to a of of Jean Houston, and I love her infectious enthusiasm, so thank you for the comparison. Not deserved. I think we bound out of the same cave but having lived with all this for so long I am fatigued by trying to convince, which makes surprising and un-looked for discovery all the more precious.

  34. I am seriously late to this party. Not sure how that happened, but glad I was able to finally catch up.

    This was a brilliant series of posts and yes, I think siestas should be adopted as a requirement. We are a sleep-deprived society and in my opinion it just ascerbates the problem. Tired, stressed people look for quick fixes in their food.

    I don’t know about in the US, but my sons’ high school provided nutrition education as part of the physical education program. Both of my sons took this program and it had a more powerful effect on their desire for healthy eating than any ‘lecture’ from mom and dad. The metamorphasis in their attitude towards junk food was impressive. As you said, children need to know how and why to make good food choices.

    • So glad you took the time (and I’m totally aware of the commitment involved for reading this series!), Joanne, no matter how much time has past since it was posted. The problem remains and continues to grow. I’m fairly sure it will be a bit like rolling a boulder uphill for the immediate future, so I’m prepared for the long haul.
      Your kids were hugely fortunate with their schools. Although we may have a growing number here in the states that are creating awareness campaigns surrounding cooking, nutrition and health or instituting school gardens, there aren’t nearly enough of them. We NEED more programs like those. Our children are desperate for those programs.
      In the end, we’ll all benefit from them, but it’s an effortful battle.
      Again, thanks for being part of the conversation!

      • I agree Shelley – it will take a while and an attack of several fronts to make serious gains. You are right to focus on the young. They are the key to the future. My 2nd son was a HUGE junk food addict. It is so wonderful to see this young man today and the healthy lifestyle he leads. Yes, part of it was learned behaviour at home, but I also believe this school program had a huge impact on his attitude about food as a fuel – not a soother.

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