Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

The Food Guide Pyramid: Let’s Try That Again

Not only is the food pyramid confusing, but studies conducted since 1992 have shown it may be grossly flawed in the amounts of carbs and fats it recommends.

2005 MyPyramid - Rejected?

Photo: United States Department of Agriculture, Julie Rooney/WFIU

Controversial amongst dietitians, consumers, and lobbyists, the ambiguous MyPyramid food guide graphic may change this December, which will affect the food industry.

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Updating A Classic

Chances are, when you think of the food guide pyramid, you remember the 1992 version that stacked bars of food in a triangle with the breads on bottom and the sweets up top.

The 2005 MyPyramid update of the food guide pyramid has not been as popular or memorable; in fact, its obscurity and confusing spacial dimensions have been widely criticized.

“We’ve heard a lot of views about the pyramid,” said Dr. Robert Post, deputy director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition and Policy Promotion. “The questions we’re asking are: Does it convey everything we want? Does it convey anything meaningful?”

What’s Right, What’s Wrong

Though backed by good intentions and a useful personalized nutrition website, the MyPyramid is a failure of graphic design because it does not convey information in a way that is understandable to a large audience.

What are the units of the foods? If they all start at the bottom and go to the top, how much of each should one eat? Are the stripes actually different sizes? Can this be useful without the website that tells consumers how much a serving means to them?

It seems as if MyPyramid was forced into the pyramid shape, and would have been much better if the information was conveyed in a different way.

Not only is it confusing, but studies conducted since 1992 have shown that the entire food pyramid idea may be “grossly flawed” in the amounts of carbohydrates and fats that it recommends.

Educating Children

Every five years the government revisits the food guide, and according to the Washington Post, may officially promote a new food guide pyramid in December of 2010. Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative has brought school food and government-backed dietary plans into the spotlight.

Not surprisingly, though, this graphic is bogged down by politics because the food pyramid guide’s power ranges from teaching children how to eat to dictating what is mandated in the SNAP (food stamps) program, hospital diets, and other dietary guides.

Affecting The Food Industry

These systems affect what food is purchased, so powerful food lobbies like the egg and meat industries fight against any guide that tells consumer to limit their products.

Senators have been known to lose elections over promoting “less red meat” or “less salt”. The consequence is that so far the government has simply been promoting more of everything. For example, “less red meat” is translated into “more fruits and vegetables.” This seems like a good message, but since calls for more vegetables go greatly unheeded, all consumers hear is “more.”

Though this country’s health and eating problems cannot be fully placed on MyPyramid’s shoulders, the food guide pyramid re-dos are an interesting illustration of the power of symbols and designs.

Read More:

Keep on the look out for the new pyramid this winter, and in the meantime, check out the alternative food guide pyramids: The Vegan Food Guide Pyramid and The Environmental Impact Food Guide Pyramid. If you think you have the graphical skills to unravel this problem, enter this Food Pyramid Redesign Contest too.

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Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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