In LA for the Hunt Fellowship

It’s tough to be away from Dunreith yet again after spending just an evening together, and being here at the Dennis A. Hunt Fellowship in Los Angeles does cushion the blow.

To begin, the weather is full of those cloudless, cool, comfortable days for which the city is known, yet without the smog for which it is so infamous.

I spent a lovely afternoon with childhood friend Hisao Kushi, his wife Karen and their beautiful children Kate and Ty.

The folks from the Hunt are putting us up at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

It’s an aptly named hotel, as, in addition to the lobby, which holds a trophy case with the list of annual winners of the John R. Wooden Award, here are literally four floors worth of gym options.

I’ve not yet checked them out, though, as I am also fortunate enough to have an exercise bicycle in my room.

The five of us Hunt fellows were treated last night to a moving and intimate dinner in which Dennis Hunt’s family members, partner, former workers and friends all spoke about the dynamic, charismatic communications visionary whose sudden death in a 2007 car accident prompted the creation of the fellowship.

The other fellows are a highly impressive bunch with a fascinating array of topics, and they are  just a fraction of the stimulating, ambitious and talented peer group that is participating in this year’s fellowship.

Tonight we met a host of others.

The entire group of us also heard tonight at a dinner from former FDA chief David Kessler, who gave us the essential argument of The End of Overeating, his 2009 book that each of us received while he spoke.

In his presentation, which was part neurological lecture, part inside scoop about changing societal perception of the tobacco industry and part Socratic dialogue, he summarized the book’s central argument that sugar, fat and salt can essentially highjack our brains and cause us to overeat, with predictably negative consequences.

The question he returned to repeatedly: Are we toast as a nation?

His answer was no, but the path to reverse these trends was not completely clear.

One key factor, though, was changing social norms in a way similar to what he and others worked hard to do around the nationwide perception of tobacco.

I agree with Kessler about the importance of changing social understandings-Allen Brandt shows convincingly in Cigarette Century how the pendulum swung back and forth during the last century-and also feel that part of the thus far elusive solution can be found in how Dunreith developed Aidan’s attitude toward food.

Dunreith spent the first seven years of her life as a single parent, bearing the responsibility for tending to Aidan’s development by herself.

With food, she always encouraged him to eat just what he wanted, and not more.

Aidan grew up always eating the amount and type of foods he enjoyed.  This pattern has continued throughout his life until today, and is just one of many areas in which I have learned from my son.

Cultivating that sense of self-control in an environment in which it can be very difficult to do so is neither easy to do nor replicate.

And yet it, along with looking at those people and communities who once overate and now consume food in healthy amounts and types, may be one of the keys to reversing the trends.

I’m looking forward to Kessler’s book and the week’s lectures, films, and field trips.  For now, though, it’s time to bed, grateful for the opportunity and for the teaching of moderation that is just one of my wife’s many gifts to our son and our family.

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