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Pundit’s Mailbag — Ireland Loves
The Food Dudes…And Tom Stenzel

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, March 14, 2007

Our piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Stenzel Speaks Out On Food Safety And Food Dudes, which was a response to two other pieces we published — A Tip Of The Hat For Stenzel and Food Dudes Beat Junk Punks And Kids Eat More Produce — brought a response from the Emerald Isle:

Dear Sir,

At the severe risk of giving the impression that Tom Stenzel of UFPA and I are part of a mutual admiration club I have to say I was pleased to read about his work and his comments about my work in increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in Ireland and Europe in general.

When I came across the Food Dude programme probably some 12 years ago now after a life time in the industry I, like many others, was seeking the Holy Grail — a promotional scheme that would change the diet of children for their lifetime, not just while a programme was running. Prof Fergus Lowe of Bangor University’s scheme does that with fantastic results after a main intervention period of just 16 days. That is affordable! It has been my pleasure to get it firstly trialled in Ireland, expanded with the help of funding from Brussels and government, and this has now led, as you read yesterday, to a nation wide rollout here in Ireland; and now we must look at a wider introduction across Europe. This is the only programme that I have ever seen that does work, really, and for the long term. What I continually fail to understand is why it takes so very long to get sufficient people copying its fundamental principles so that it can reach a world wide audience.

I would like to add that it is very apparent to me that Tom is an exceptional and excellent ambassador for our industry and the USA. I have heard him speak several times and it is always with absolute clarity and what he has to say is always fascinating to me. The last time, last autumn, was in London where he was explaining the timing, science and safety issues of a number of the food scares that have been occurring in the USA. We can all learn from such well documented portrayals so that our industry, already working hugely on safety issues on both sides of the Atlantic, can move in so far as is possible to eliminate such scares in the future. As long as you have people like Tom involved the industry we’ll make real progress.

— Dr Laurence Swan
Managing Director for R&D
Fyffes
The Ramparts, Dundalk, Ireland

We thank Dr. Swan for his note. We agree fully that one of the saddest mistakes the industry has made — and made time and time again — is to fund programs without first doing pilots to ascertain the effectiveness of the proposed course of action.

When research has been done, it is all too often done for the purpose of finding a justification for the program as opposed to actually understanding if the program is working.

Too much industry money has been spent on what is, basically, wishful thinking. What is great about the Food Dudes program is two things: First, it starts out with a psychological approach: Its founders asked themselves this question: What would change behavior? Second, it includes loads of study, after the fact, to ascertain if it is working.

Despite our enthusiasm for the program, we probably shouldn’t get too carried away, and we would have to hold off on Dr. Swan’s conclusion that the Food Dudes program will “change the diet of children for their lifetime” — the program isn’t old enough to know if that is true.

Unfortunately, here in America, we have done extensive research on a pre-school effort for underprivileged children, a program known as Head Start. It is a program everyone would like to see succeed and it has substantial short-term benefits. Alas, the research indicates that by the time children are 18, we can’t identify any benefit to them from having gone through Head Start — even though there is substantial benefit evidenced for a few years after pre-school.

We hope that money will be found to do research to analyze the children who complete the Food Dudes program through the rest of their lives at, say, five year intervals. Only in that way will we know if we are making a long-term difference.

Of course with Ireland now adopting the program nationally, we will have a great national experiment. The research gives us good reason to expect that the young children who go through the program will, in fact, eat better in 18 months. Whether they will eat better in 18 years, we just don’t know.

Certainly, though, such a program stands a better shot at working than something that is simply an exhortation and has never been studied at all!

Many thanks to Dr. Swan for keeping us up to date on the Food Dudes program and for letting us know about Tom Stenzel’s effective representation of the American industry in Europe.

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