The pyramid is toppled

Lindsay Beyerstein contemplates the implications — and suspects some of the origins — of MyPlate:

[T]he amino-acid intensive category is called “Protein” — not “Meat.” Historically, one of the main criticisms of the USDA guides has been their insinuation that meat and dairy products are an essential part of every healthy diet. That’s not surprising considering the lobbying might of American agribusiness. At the end of the day, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is a lot more powerful than whoever represents our nation’s tofu producers in Washington. So, it’s nice to see the USDA taking an ecumenical stance when it comes to recommending “protein,” as opposed to “meat.”

However, when I saw the MyPlate icon, my first thought was: “The dairy industry won big, here.” Notice that in the top right corner, there’s a separate satellite orb labelled “Dairy,” in what looks like a glass next to the plate. The visual upshot is not only that dairy is a necessary part of every healthy diet, which is simply not true, but also that Americans should drink milk with every meal. Strictly speaking, the dairy orb could represent cheese, yogurt, or milk products, but it sure looks like a glass of milk with dinner.

In the back of my mind, I see a tofu-industry lobbyist, sneaking away from K Street at lunchtime in search of a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese. (See also this sad tale by Larry Groce.)

And I endorse this bit of informed cynicism:

[O]dds are, MyPlate is itself the product of heavy lobbying, just like its predecessors. So, caveat eater.

But I’m still not going to dunk my Oreo (or Hydrox, if available) in spring water.


  1. McGehee »

    5 June 2011 · 8:54 am


    You know, what I learned growing up was that you had to have a balanced diet, and while the definitions of each category might differ depending on who was describing it, the underlying concept was the same: eat enough of everything, and never too much of anything. In my own case, both the positive and the negative predictions surrounding this approach proved as true as the Law of Gravity (and I sure don’t need to explain the connection between them…).

    But you get the government involved and suddenly every damn scold and wannabe totalitarian comes out of the woodwork demanding that their description of what’s right and what isn’t, be incorporated. Because when the government says something everybody always believes it like it was gospel.

    Oh, wait…

  2. fillyjonk »

    5 June 2011 · 4:05 pm

    Waiting for the people screaming “But adults DON’T drink milk with dinner!” (To which I respond: this adult does. And with breakfast. And for a before bed snack. My bone density, let me show you it…)

    I dunno. I almost see the industry lobbyists as a leavening force here, preventing those who would tell us to exist on a diet of broccoli and spring water from holding too much sway.

  3. nightfly »

    6 June 2011 · 10:52 am

    Remember the Prism of Nutrition? This is marginally less-stupid, but fortunately, just as easy to ignore in favor of the four food groups, moderation, and exercise.

  4. Tatyana »

    6 June 2011 · 1:37 pm

    Just recently I read a post about someone who moved to Norway; the most surprising local food custom he noted was drinking milk with all kinds of food: grilled steak? yes; green salad with vinegar dressing? yes; meatballs in tomato sauce? yes.
    Anybody else would have had an indigestion, at least -but not the locals.

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