Forget the “starving kids in China” who used to be the bugbears of family meals.
“Don’t eat everything on your plate!” our parents scream. “There are morbidly obese kids in West Virginia somewhere.”
(West Virginia is, according to Gallup, the fattest state in the union, so I am not singling it out to be mean. I am simply pointing out a fact. This is something that people who talk about weight issues sometimes have difficulty realizing. “When I said that man looked like a beached whale,” I apologize, “I did not say that to be mean. I meant that he actually had a body mass equal to that of a live orca.”)
Now the rule is “Eat Everything On The Food Plate.” Michelle Obama unveiled this new guide Thursday morning at USDA headquarters.
The USDA is replacing the Food Pyramid, which used to confuse everyone, with a Food Plate. This will still confuse everyone, because any attempt to reduce healthy eating to a graphic you can put on a bumper sticker is inevitably doomed to failure. But it is at least closer to correct than a nutrition chart from the Department of Agriculture in 1934 that listed the seven main food groups as “Green and yellow vegetables; oranges, tomatoes, grapefruit; potatoes and other vegetables and fruits; milk and milk products; meat, poultry, fish, or eggs; bread, flour, and cerals” and, last but not least, “butter and fortified margarine.” “Eat some food from each group . . . every day!” the poster urged.
I do find it interesting that in the most recent move, we seem to have lost a dimension. Next will be the Food Line, followed by the Food Dot.
But a plate is a more logical formation for food than a pyramid, which only springs to mind if you subsist entirely on Ferrero Rocher chocolates. And the rejected hieroglyph of that last pyramid, with the bewildering vertical rainbow stripes and the jogging stick figure, was wildly confusing. “Run up and away from pyramid-shaped food?” we said, when asked to decipher it.
The new symbol is clean and clear. But it relegates meat to one corner, news that may be disconcerting to Mark Zuckerberg, now on a diet where he eats only what he can kill. (Have you ever tried to kill spinach? It’s patient and deadly.)
Still, I doubt that the plate will fix our problems. Two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. And while some graphic-design purists might insist that “the wide bread layer at the base of the old pyramid confused us into thinking we must develop wide bases from scarfing carbs,” I sincerely doubt that this is what it came down to. But here’s hoping!
The guide looks good. But simply put, there is no more personal decision than what we choose to put in our stomachs. Incomes and metabolic rates vary. Obesity has been blamed on everything from increased economic uncertainty, apparently triggering our instinct to stuff ourselves for winter, to genetics, to the increasing availability of cheap fast food, to simple lack of self-control. Some argue for more government involvement. Some argue against it.
Some blame portion sizes! Some blame plate sizes! “Forget what’s on the Food Plate!” they say. “How big is it? When we go to restaurants, we eat off plates the size of small moons, covered in lakes of gravy and mountains of mashed potatoes. It could be one of those!”
This issue has become so fraught that even when Michelle Obama gently urges us to move, we plant our feet and stick out our tongues. “I’m an adult!” we yell. “I can eat what I want to eat! And what I want is three courses of ice cream!” We are a nation of teenagers, screaming and bursting into tears about our body image whenever anyone offers us brussels sprouts. Start a national conversation about weight? La la la, we’re not listening!
Meanwhile, we continue to pile on the pounds.
The USDA is now urging us to share our food plates. Here’s mine. I hope it helps the discussion!