Thursday, June 2, 2011

How to Change a Triangle Into a Circle

Today the USDA, with the assistance of First Lady Michelle Obama, announced "new" nutritional guidelines for Americans (  They've done away with the confusing, outdated, and arguably well-connected lobbyist motivated food pyramid and have given us... wait for it... a circle.  Well, if I'm being honest, they gave us a plate: 

I'm not really qualified to comment on the changes but as someone who cooks basically every day and teaches others how to cook I'm going to take a stab at it.

I'm both discouraged and encouraged by the change.

Discouraging: Yes the food pyramid was in desperate need of an update and hard to understand.  But do we really have to dumb it down THIS MUCH for the American public?  Maybe I overestimate people.  I read the same news sources you do.  I know all about overweight kids, obesity, the growing waistlines of Americans.  I just can't believe it has come to this.   Even my 7 year old knows that half your plate should be filled with fruits or vegetables.  Yep, I clearly overestimate people.

Encouraging: The obvious: it's MUCH easier to understand.  Also on the plus side I like that the USDA has chosen to use proteins to encompass a larger group of food choices instead of assuming that everyone uses meat as their main source of protein throughout the day (definitely a strike against the all powerful meat lobby!).   Also heartening is that they make a distinction between whole grains and refined grains and include many interesting options and choices on the website if you click around (quinoa - the USDA is recommending quinoa!).  Another check in the plus column - overall the media attention this has garnered is a huge step in the right direction. I can't imagine this would have been such a news-worthy item 10 years ago.   However none of this news is really NEW.  Michael Pollan said it best (even if he wasn't first):  "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

The part of me that is working on seeing the glass half-full these days hopes that people actually take this to heart.  Maybe take some time to discuss the changes with their kids.  I know I did.  Do me a favor and just show your child the picture.  It's pretty easy for a kid to understand and it could be a really great way to make planning and eating healthy meals both fun and entertaining.  I am also optimistic that schools and other institutions that feed large groups of people will incorporate the recommendations.  The pessimist in me thinks that maybe we're too far gone as a country.  The fact that we have such lax standards for food quality and can't provide universal access to good food choices in a 1st world nation is outrageous to me.

But then that little positive voice in my head chimes in with the thought maybe, just maybe this means that one day a head of broccoli or a bunch of bananas will cost less than a bag of chips or a box of pasta.  Because until we see those kinds of advances - where good nutritional choices are an easy option for everyone - nothing will change other than the shapes suggested by the USDA.

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