I read something at The Atlantic site today that got me thinking. The author, Hank Cardello, wrote a piece titled 3 Lessons Food Marketers Can Learn From BP. It deals with how food marketers can handle the obesity crisis by NOT doing the things that BP has done to this point.

Cardello says that right now we are in a defining moment for food and obesity, and this moment “will determine whether food companies ultimately are labeled as pariahs or emerge as ‘heros’.”

He proposes that food companies should:

  1. Take responsibility.
  2. Cap the well. (Put a moratorium on the number of calories sold.)
  3. Clean up the mess.
It’s the third lesson that caught my attention. In explaining how to clean up the mess, Cardello says this:
Compared to 1970, each of us is now exposed to 30 percent more calories daily. In my last article, I highlighted that it would take the removal of 69 trillion calories from the food supply to return us to the level of calories we consumed "pre-obesity." And the only way to accomplish this is for all food companies to shave off at least 20 percent of the calories they are selling.
First of all, that statistic blew me away. Americans now consume 30 percent more calories, or 69 trillion more calories, each day than they did 40 years ago? Sixty-nine trillion calories is just too much for me to even fathom. I have a vague picture in mind of a pile of Twinkies for as far as the eye can see, but how many miles long, wide, and high would that pile have to be to add up to 69 trillion calories worth of snack cake?

Last month, food manufacturers promised to take 1.5 trillion calories out of their products by 2015 as they scramble to look like they are in line with Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign. That works out to about 12.5 calories for each person each day. It's going to take a lot more than removing 12.5 calories from a person's diet each day to make a difference.

One thing that never occurred to me until I started learning about our processed food system is that calories = money to food processors. If eaters can be coaxed into eating more calories that usually means they will eat more food. More food equals more money in the pockets of the food manufacturers.

Food manufacturers aren’t in the business to make less money. In my experience, when manufacturers do create food with fewer calories like those measly 100-calorie packs of cookies, candy or cheese curls, those individual packets usually cost more per ounce than buying the foods in larger quantities (and produce much more waste when all is said and done). Have you ever had one of those 100-calorie packs? Have you ever ended up having a second pack not soon after? I’m sure you have.

When Cardello says “the only way to accomplish” going back to the calorie consumption we had in 1970 “is for all food companies to shave off at least 20 percent of the calories they are selling,” my first thought is that this wouldn’t help much. Eaters will just eat more.

And, why is that the only way? How about people just choosing to eat fewer calories on their own? If you read this blog regularly, you know I’d rather encourage people to take personal responsibility for what they and their families eat rather than waiting for food producers or the government to make the changes for them.

I have no problem with food manufacturers taking responsibility, too. Creating foods with better quality, fewer calories, and higher nutrition is something that all food manufacturers should be striving for. But in the end, those manufacturers exist to create profits. I believe their main goal will always be making their investor’s wallets fatter, not their consumer’s waistlines thinner.

We don’t need to sit back and wait for food manufacturers to cut the calories for our families or us if cutting calories is necessary. We can do it ourselves. Actually doing it, well that’s another thing, isn’t it?

MNN homepage photo: Bodrov/iStockphoto

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.