To avoid upstaging the first lady, the USDA made a select group of academics and food industry representatives sign non-disclosure forms at a private unveiling of the image three weeks ago, several sources said. Still, word leaked, leading to early rave reviews from hard-to-please corners of the foodieverse — and sighs of relief that the food plate’s predecessor, USDA’s confusing MyPyramid, had finally been dismantled.
As a 2005 update to the original food pyramid, MyPyramid eschewed words and depictions of food, featuring instead colored bars streaking down from a pyramid’s apex and a stick figure running up the side. “It was foodless and useless,” said Marion Nestle, a New York University nutritionist. And it was impossible to decipher without logging onto the USDA Web site.
But the meaning of the new image, a colorful wheel covered with grains, vegetables and meats, is instantly clear, said Wootan. “I saw it for 20 seconds maybe,” she said, referring to the private unveiling. “And I can picture it exactly.”
Already, the fruit and vegetable lobby is going bananas.
“This is a really, really big deal,” said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association, the small but feisty lobby for fruit and vegetable producers. “It works on a plate, a bowl, a lunch bag,” she said of the concept of making half of every meal fruits and vegetables.
DiSogra has a special right to express delight: She oversaw the creation of the plate icon in 2004 while heading up a healthful-eating initiative at another government agency, the National Cancer Institute.
Seeking an easy visual cue to remind people to eat five fruits and vegetables each day — NCI’s so-called 5-A-Day program — DiSogra and her team hired a public relations firm, Porter Novelli. Advertising whizzes there sketched a plate half covered with carrots, lettuce, cucumbers and other greenery.
A test marketing campaign with “every cultural and ethnic group in the country” proved the image an effective and easily grasped promotional tool, DiSogra said.
NCI officials offered the image to USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services as a replacement for the original food pyramid.
The two agencies said no to the plate. “The mantra at USDA at the time was there is no such thing as a good food or a bad food,” Willett said. The plate broke that rule by banishing meat to one corner.
Seven years later, USDA has reversed course. The agency finally adopted the plate after additional market testing among some 4,000 consumers over the past year, said the USDA’s Post. Several other groups, including the American Diabetes Association and the American Institute for Cancer Research, already use very similar plate images in their healthy lifestyle campaigns.