Saturday, June 4, 2011

Food for Thought

The USDA needs to stop redesigning the Food Pyramid. But seriously. They're the department of agriculture, not graphic design; give it a rest! Sure enough, they've done it again, bringing new meaning to the phrase "reinvent the wheel." The new circle-shaped "MyPlate" (that's right, plate, not pyramid) was unveiled Thursday - unbelievable. I did some digging to enrich my complaints, and so without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, a brief history of the USDA's food guides:

The USDA first introduces dietary guidelines.

To help keep Americans healthy during World War II rationing, the Department creates the "Basic 7" food wheel.

Seven groups was no good, so they drop it to four.

The wheel design isn't cutting it, so the Food Pyramid was born - the one I grew up with. It seems to make sense to me, and it's easy to remember visually: the bottom is grains, eat lots of those; then comes fruit and vegetables, eat those about evenly; next is dairy and meat, eat less; finally sweets, eat these least. I did that from memory before inserting the graphic, it's that simple.

It turns out that exercise is a food group, and it's probably as easy to memorize the width of colored strips as it is to learn that pyramids are big on the bottom and smaller up top, so the USDA renovated their masterpiece, replacing it with MyPyramid.

Turns out wheels were pretty cool after all. Back to square one with a carefully-divided serving plate, MyPlate, impossible to recreate from memory (note the subtle differences in portion sizes between groups). And how are we supposed to compare the tiny circle to the wedges, exactly?

Suffice it so say, I'm not pleased. Another pointless redesign, another step away from the 1992 structure that made good sense. What's the next step, the Food Dodecahedron (sorry, the MyDodecahedron)? Here's an idea: drop the budget for the USDA's graphic design team, reinstate the old Food Pyramid, and put the savings into sustainable fuel for the farmers.

It took them 6 years to make the last change. At this rate, each graduating class will have grown up on a different food shape. That's probably not healthy for American unity, it's unclear whether or not it's healthy for our bodies, and it's sure messing with our mental health. Well, mine at least.


  1. Hey Brian, I understand your concern, but you have to understand the logic behind this change/overhaul. The pyramid design was far too abstract to be understood by mothers who want to give their children a balanced died. Now, thanks to myplate, moms will know more-or-less how much of different nutrients to give their children without measuring (3 oz? How much is that), and just looking at the plate, by estimating :)

  2. Runil: That's not a bad point...but I still think the 1992 Pyramid is better than the 2011 Plate for motherly estimating. With the Pyramid, it's easy to see that Grains should be most, and Dairy/Protein about even. With the Plate, can you really tell how Dairy is supposed to compare to anything else?

    That said, I like what you say about the plate being easier to look at and then translate into real-world portions. But I'm still not sold. Which is bigger, Vegetables or Grains? I can't estimate that from the picture.

  3. The problem with the 1992 food pyramid is that it places too much emphasis on carbs, leading to the Atkins-lead backlash. It also sets up certain skewed proportions not matter how you shuffle the groups, while MyPlate suggests more subtle diferences (too subtle, apparently). Mapping it onto the pyramid, we gets grains and veggies on the bottom, fruits and proteins next, dairy all by itself, and then sweets at the top (the one thing we can agree on). But remember that this is politics, and the lobbies for every food group are out in full force because millions of dollars are on the line. By shuffling the groups on the old pyramid, there are clear winners and losers. (I also thinks it's interesting that meats have been replaced with the vegetarian-friendly protein label).

  4. Agreed that the proportions from 1992 may be off, but I think the pyramid structure for visualizing less/more was a good method.

    I suppose taking sweets off of MyPlate isn't a terrible idea...but it's kind of like teaching abstinence, or telling your kids not to drink - is it better to try and remove it altogether, or note that it should be done minimally?

    Protein is a better label, I think. I didn't even notice it was vegetarian-friendly; that's cool. But things like tuna fish and peanut butter are in this group anyway; they were never "meat."


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