Clinton did not tout bugs as a solution because they are an emerging, sustainable source of lean protein or a novel baking ingredient that can improve the health profile of popular items such as chips, cookies or snack bars as marketed by several startups. Rather, Clinton told attendees at the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Summit in Washington, DC, last week that bugs’ can help fend off preventable, diet-related diseases simply by providing a model for cooperation to achieve a shared goal.
Clinton said that he came to this conclusion in part by watching the not one, but two, ant farms that were given to him as gifts from his staff, and from Edward O. Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth.
Describing Wilson’s slim volume as “the most important political book that no one reads as a political book,” Clinton explained that Wilson argues that of all the species that inhabited earth, the most successful ones that ever lived, as defined by enduring multiple threats to their existence, are ants, termites, bees and people.
While these are ‘’not the biggest or strongest” of the species, Clinton said Wilson attributes their survival to their ability to find “ways to work together and solve common problems for stronger futures.”
And this is exactly what people need to do again to fight the obesity epidemic and other diet-related chronic diseases, Clinton said.
He acknowledged that this approach “is never as interesting as a knock-down, blood-on-the floor fight,” and is not as emotionally satisfying as “good old-fashioned name-calling,” or the tribalism that is growing in America, but, he said, “the truth is that in the world we live in, creative cooperation involving diverse partnerships with people who live different lives and know different things are the best mechanism for solving complex social problems.”
For support, he pointed to the agreement the Alliance for a Healthier Generation brokered with the American Beverage Association – to very different groups, with different individual goals – to reduce sugar consumption from drinks served in schools.
The arrangement resulted in a 90% reduction in calories from drinks in schools in part because it respected the individual needs of each partner.
“I never ask anybody to lose money, I say, because it’s not sustainable. I said, ‘Can you find a way to make money in a different way?’ And they did. They basically got all the full-sugar drinks out of the schools and went to fruit-flavored waters and smaller portions of milk, smaller portions of juice,” Clinton said.
He also lauded Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, the Partnership for a Healthier America and all the companies that have made commitments to PHA for similarly working together to achieve a common goal of reducing childhood obesity.
And while he celebrated the successes these partnerships have reached so far, he asked companies and public health advocates at the Summit to take the next step.
“We can do this in a big way,” he said, noting, for example, “we are now working with the beverage industry to reduce total consumption of calories from beverages nationally by people of all ages everywhere by 20% by 2025.”
He also took a step back from the food, beverage and public health arena to note that legislators in Washington could also learn from this approach.
He explained: “When Michelle Obama asked our foundation to help with what she was doing, and I realized they were calling the campaign ‘Let’s Move’ – not ‘Move Away,’ ‘Let’s Move’ – I thought, maybe we should make that the national motto and put in on the Capitol and the White House: Do something. Do it.”
And while Clinton noted he could “make 50 jokes out this,” he said he wouldn’t because he didn’t want attendees to lose sight of the true message “that inclusion, diversity and creative cooperation lead to better results.”