Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Weekly Roundup: New Food Pyramid, Massive Droughts, Earth Eating

The MyPyramid is rethought, massive droughts threaten, and global diets are compared.

This Week’s Top Stories:
The Food Guide Pyramid | Massive Droughts | Eating The Earth

The Food Guide Pyramid: Let’s Try That Again

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.

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?”

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.

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.

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 loose 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.

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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Massive Droughts: In A Country Near You, Summer, 2060

Drought

Photo: Alex Lichtenberger (flickr)

A new study by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research suggests that massive droughts may plague the Earth within a few decades.

Let’s face it: what apocalyptic eco-thriller doesn’t have a giant wave crashing over the Statue of Liberty?

However, new research has shown that directors who want to play on the ever growing fear of an environmental disaster may have to rethink their strategies, because the earth’s future is looking a lot scarier and drier than Hollywood would have us believe.

According to a study just released by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, “severe and prolonged” droughts are a growing threat in the coming decades that will cause global droughts greater than have ever been observed in modern times.

The changes in temperature and water will be heavily influenced by greenhouse gas emissions and other stresses on the environment, which in turn will negatively (and possibly lethally) affect living conditions, food production, and water availability. All of this is predicted to happen within the century.

According to the study, the countries and continents that could face significant drying include Latin America (especially large sections of Mexico and Brazil), regions around the Mediterranean Sea, Southwest Asia, most of Africa and Australia, and large stretches of the United States. The study also produced a number of effective graphics, which can be viewed here.

Drought Levels 2060-2069

Photo: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

(c) University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

It’s time to put down the thrilling blockbusters and address our environmental challenges in an immediate and urgent way.

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How Does Your Diet Affect The Environment?

Eating the Earth, detail

Photo: WWF, GOOD (wwf)

If everyone ate an American Diet, we would need almost four Earths worth of resources by 2050.

Graphics and their affect on public policy and opinion have featured prominently in this Weekly Round-Up, so let’s end the post with a fascinating graphic courtesy of WWF and GOOD.

“Eating the Earth” compares the environmental impact of average Italian, American, and Malaysian diets.

Some of their findings:

  • The average Malaysian Diet uses the least amount of grazing land, eats the most roots and tubers, and consumes the least amount of dairy.
  • The average Italian Diet eats the most cereals.
  • The average American Diet eats the most amounts of meats and dairies, and uses the most amount of grazing land and carbon emissions.

WWF and GOOD calculated the amount of resources the diets will consume based on how many resources are available on the Earth, and found that by 2050 people eating Malaysian Diets will need 2.48 Earths worth of resources, people eating Italian Diets will need 3.58 Earths, and people eating American Diets will need 3.74 earths.

Eating the Earth

Photo: WWF, GOOD (wwf)

This infographic created in collaboration by WWF and GOOD compares the environmental impact of Italian, Malaysian, and American diets.

You can download the entire graphic here: Eating the Earth

Read More:

  • Living Planet Report Infographics (WWF)
  • Infographic: How Your Diet Affects the Planet (GOOD)

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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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