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Setting his place with ‘Knife and Fork’

The governor serves up chestnuts; some may stick in your craw.

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Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork By Mike Huckabee, Photographs by Geoff Hansen Center Street, New York, NY, hardcover, $19.95. Mike Huckabee’s book “Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork” is great if you need a kick start on your weight-loss plan, to hear again that the more you eat the more you weigh, that fruit is better for you than fat-fried potatoes and that temptation makes it tough to stick it out. It’s not for the reader who doesn’t quite buy it that a politician is so concerned about our health that he sacrificed time on the job to write a best-selling diet book. (Its Amazon.com sales ranking is No. 140 as this is being written.) Or for the reader who is turned off by the irony in the governor’s direction to keep unhealthy food out of reach, but his action to make sure that Coke and candy vending machines aren’t taken out of public schools. Our kind of diet book is “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” in which we learn how a French teen-ager who porked up on an exchange program to the U.S. was met with a “sacre bleu!” upon her return and quickly thinned back down. But some people want more direct instruction, so the governor’s shtick, 12 “stops” instead of 12-step, may work for them. While confiding embarrassing things about himself to soften the lesson — like the fact that he broke an antique chair at a cabinet meeting — the governor and former Baptist preacher takes the commandment approach in talking to his readers. The first of the 12 stops: Thou shalt “stop procrastinating.” He’s right on the money here with this “just do it” approach, starting day one of a diet with exercise, skipping sugar, eating protein and drinking water. So far, so good. But he serves up a fact that’s a little hard to swallow: That to push him into a diet, his wife, Janet, the first lady of Arkansas but otherwise unemployed, “gave me a brand-new, fully equipped Bass Cat fishing boat with a 225-horsepower Mercury outboard motor.” Huckabee continues in the finger-wagging vein with thou shalt “stop making excuses,” but it’s not a bad idea to encourage people to think about changing their style of eating, permanently. It’s not original either, but it bears repeating. The governor also tells us to stop watching television, stop ignoring your medical problems, stop expecting to be thin right away, stop thinking of food as a reward, stop cheating at Christmas and, some unusual advice, stop listening to all those people who are telling you you’ll never make it, and stop hanging around with them. Maybe we’ve been lucky, but no one has ever said anything to us when we’ve been dieting to suggest we are spineless losers who might as well get on the dialysis waiting list early, or anything close to that. No one. Obesity is a serious problem, and one has only to look around to see that American children have been turned into time-bomb blimps by 16-ounce Cokes, biggie fries, supersized Snickers — “Enormous” food, as they say at Burger King. Once, children walked and played and only watched TV on Sunday night when “Lassie” came on. Their habits today are reversed, only going outdoors when Lassie must be walked, at a cost of shortened, unhealthy lives and enormous medical bills. So we must throw down our napkin in disgust when we read the governor’s admonishment to “stop storing provisions” and “stop fueling with contaminated food,” i.e., food and drink sweetened by high-fructose corn syrup. Now here’s a guy whose emissary to the state Health Department obesity task force made it clear the governor wouldn’t stand for the removal of soft drink or snack machines from the public schools saying it’s best to put these things out of sight. Anticipating some criticism on this point, the governor adds an appendix to the book, “What government should and shouldn’t do.” Unfortunately, it too is contradictory. Here the governor advocates for disease prevention. He thinks America’s health care system should focus on prevention rather than spending billions of dollars on treatment. OK. But, he says, it shouldn’t tell “liberty-loving Americans what they can and cannot do.” It just doesn’t work; peer pressure is the way to go, not law. “Personally,” he says, “I hope the tobacco habit dies a quick and ugly death, the sooner the better!” This suggests that government, which has been telling people what it can and cannot do since We the People cooked it up, should limit itself to accidents, not disease. Don’t run red lights. Put your baby in a car seat. Wear a helmet when you’re riding a motorcycle (unless you live in Arkansas). On the other hand, inalienable is the right to make your restaurant workers breathe in second-hand smoke. The right for Arkansas high schools to rely on Coke and candy sales, not taxes, to help the budget. Tobacco and soft drink money are clearly “provisions” you need to store — especially when all indications are you’re headed to Washington, D.C., to spread a few commandments around there, too. Where did we get that idea? From “Knife and Fork”: “I have embarked on a mission to challenge the faulty thinking of our current system that could result in a complete change in the paradigm of health care in America,” the governor writes. A book tour should be a good first step. P.S. The governor needed a better editor — as do we all. He thanks Jean-Paul Francoeur and Gina Marchese in his introduction, but spells both names incorrectly. We guess this will be fixed when the book goes into its next printing.

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