Friday, March 19, 2010

How Many Twinkies Are Too Many?

Michelle Obama spoke about obesity Wednesday at a forum sponsored by Newsweek.  (The full transcript can be found here.)  If you read the whole thing it sounds pretty sensible, but the part about Twinkies seemed a little silly.  It started when the interviewer asked her if she thought Twinkies and Fruit Loops should come with warning labels. 
You know, that strikes me as extreme, because a Twinkie is not a cigarette, you know. And what -- what parents need is just information about what's in the Twinkie and how much of this can we eat. It's not that we can't have a Twinkie. And our kids would be pretty upset. And I am not supporting that.


I'm all in favor of good snacks. We grew up with snacks and chips. We did. But we have to exercise more, parents have to understand what's in the Twinkie; again, how does it fit into the overall diet. So we don't need a warning, we need information. And we need information that's easy to understand. That's something that I said yesterday in the speech. You read labels now and it's like the small print and it's all "oleosutomay" -- or I don't -- the chemicals, you can't even pronounce them, and the portion sizes compared to one, and you've got a small one and a big one. And then, before you know it, you don't know what to buy and how much to give to your kids and in what amounts. That's the kind of information that families need.

I'd like to know how she proposes we make the ingredient list on a Twinkie wrapper easier to understand?  In order to do that you'd have to take out all of the unpronounceable chemicals and then it wouldn't be a Twinkie anymore, would it?  If she wants labels to be understandable, what she really wants is for foods to be all-natural.  A Twinkie will never be that.  So she's really sending a mixed message.

My opinion:  from a health perspective a Twinkie is probably more like a cigarette than Michelle Obama is willing to admit.  I'd recommend she check out Steve Ettlinger's book, Twinkie Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats.  How do Twinkies fit into the overall diet?  They just don't, not at all.  The proper portion size?  Zero servings.

She makes a good point that we need to understand portion sizes better, but I wish she would have argued that sometimes the portion size should be zero.

We've really lost our ability to understand sensible portions and I think that came about because we quit growing our own food and started eating processed junk.  With processed junk you really don't know what you're eating, so how can you ever gauge what is a sensible amount?  When you grow your own food you understand what's sensible to grow, to store, and to eat and you understand how to create balance among a wide variety of foods.  It's all right under your nose.  You see it all, you know how much work is required and how many resources are involved in creating the food.  You will naturally create a diet that is sensible and has sensible portions.  And you won't have to mine anything to create it.

I think it will be a long, hard journey to get people to return to that kind of knowledge.

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