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What's Wrong with the USDA's New MyPlate Graphic? Plenty

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Health Issues page, Appetite for a Change page, Politics and Democracy page, Farm Issues page, and our USDA Watch page.


The collective wisdom in press reports last week was that the USDA's new "easy to understand" ChooseMyPlate image is "better" than the old pyramid. Well, that's not saying much. But it's also completely beside the point. Sure, it's easy to poke fun at how bad the pyramid image was (and I had a ball doing so in my book), but just comparing images misses the larger issue: that the whole damn exercise of trying to educate the American public with a simple image is beyond pointless -- it's downright insulting.

But before I explain, allow me to get a few things about the new image off my chest. First, the website URL tells us a lot: ChooseMyPlate.gov. The words choose and choice -- why are they ringing a bell? Oh yes, they're favorites of the food industry, to remind us that it's really all up to individuals to choose to eat a healthy diet, and that companies provide a wide range of choices for us each to choose from. Never mind that for too many Americans, the choices in their neighborhood range from McDonald's to Burger King. That the governments is using such a construction for dietary advice tells us that it doesn't want to rub industry the wrong way by (God forbid) actually telling Americans how we should eat for optimum health.

Much has been made of how brave it was for USDA to depict half of the plate with fruits and vegetables. Yes, that does represent a significant departure from the past and I'm willing to give some credit here. But that victory is quickly overshadowed by two other, scientifically questionable recommendations: protein and dairy. As Marion Nestle pointed out, protein is not a food, it's a nutrient, so the meat industry must be very happy to see it represented so prominently, as they have brainwashed the American public for decades into equating "meat" with "protein." Most Americans eat way too much protein and certainly need no reminders.