Digesting the USDA food plate

So the food plate is replacing the useless food pyramid version 2.0, and everyone is having their say. The consensus opinion seems to be that it’s a definite improvement over previous iterations, most of which showed the stamp of the animal ag lobby. (For a visual example of food lobbyists at work: the CSPI’s work often needs grain-of-salting, but this video is an excellent example of the murkiness of the science-policy interface. Oh, and the embedded video above is…about vegetables.)

A brief overview of the impressions I’ve come across. Some bemoan the absence of exercise, which was visually represented in the otherwise baffling food pyramid. Some see it as a small but much needed step towards reclaiming government authority over food leadership in a Beck/Palin age of ‘hands off my food’. Some questioned whether the USDA, a federal body with the promotion of American agriculture as its core mandate, is really competent to chair this discussion. Others, mostly in the comments sections, tooted their low-carb horns. Vegan dieticians questioned the inclusion of the dairy satellite on grounds of redundancy. The use of a plate rather than a pyramid was generally hailed as a common sense transition. There was, of course, varying degrees of snarky skepticism over the role of government as food nanny. (I’m setting aside, for now, Reason‘s derisive use of the term ‘nanny’, which until its libertarian appropriation was unequivocally positive in tone–Martha Nussbaum addresses this issue in the film Examined Life here). And, as usual, the Atlantic Wire has a pretty good overview of various other positions.

Marion Nestle’s first impressions are worth reading. She is generally supportive of the change, although she acknowledges that these are small steps, and that US ag policy under Vilsack needs to be brought into line with these recommendations. Her main quibble: “Protein.  I’m a nutritionist.  Protein is a nutrient, not a food.  Protein is not exactly lacking in American diets.  The average American consumes twice the protein needed.  Grains and dairy, each with its own sector, are important sources of protein in American diets.

I see her point, but this is a case where a one-plate-fits-all food is problematic, and ‘protein’ may be the best middle ground available. Vegan.com’s Erik Marcus approved of the protein moniker because it’s sufficiently broad as to allow for non-animal as well as animal proteins, and because it takes up less of the plate than the fruit and veg portions. On the other hand, the nutrient protein is present in three of the four foods listed (vegetables, grains, and dairy), making it possibly redundant–especially considering that most Americans get way too much protein, but are too macho and meat-addicted to take this seriously.

Edit: Nestle has a follow-up barrage of links here.

Leave a Reply