Pharaoh’s good-eating guide

Someday, the USDA Food Pyramid will be a core case study in disaster for design students. The New York Times reports that the administration is reversing the incomprehensible 2005 decision to divide the famous pyramid into coloured wedges instead of labelled ascending slices. This was an idea which, and stop me if this seems obvious, contradicted the whole pretext for a pyramid-shaped infographic. You depict something as a pyramid when you want to imply a quantitatively large and fundamental base—in the ideal diet, whole grains and vegetables—and a smaller, less important top, which in the original plan for the pyramid was basically occupied by meat and eggs. The Meat ’n’ Eggs Lobby (i.e., the agriculture industry that the USDA exists to serve) didn’t like the hierarchical implications, and so the pyramid became, in the words of a nutritionist quoted by the Times, a diagram “which basically conveys no useful information”.

I’m eager to see the new circular “plate” that will replace the pyramid this week. The government doesn’t want to call it a “pie chart”, although homemade pies in round tins seem pretty low on the list of public-health threats in the year 2011. The archetypal chubby kid in old black-and-white comedies who made a habit of stealing pies off window sills was at least playing outside and getting a fair amount of fruit; he’d be considered a paragon of health now.




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Pharaoh’s good-eating guide

  1. Well said, Colby! I only recently woke up from the illusions that dairy and meat should play a significant role in our diets. I’ve since given whole grains, fruits and veggies a larger role in my diet, and reduced my dairy & meat intake, with huge improvements to my health.

    Unfortunately, the dairy and meat lobby groups seem to have significant influence with both the US and Canadian governments.

    As for pyramids, I recommend Dr Joel Fuhrman’s food pyramid for a healthy diet. He also critiques the USDA’s food serving diagrams.

  2. I’ll be glad when this food faddism is over with.

    Everything, in moderation.

    • Except, apparently, posting on Macleans, something to be done in quantities approaching the guzzling of a supertanker of crude oil.

      • ???  I’m not sure what you’re on about, but there’s not much posting at Macleans

  3. “Someday, the USDA Food Pyramid will be a core case study in disaster for design students.”

    That’s it? …… This can’t be your only criticism of Pyramid. Marxist professors have created a moral panic about fat people, dressed up as concern for public health, and people are focused on design of chart? 

    I could write a book on why USDA Food Pyramid is evil and represents all that is bad about big government. When Ronald Reagan said nine scariest words are ‘we’re from gov’t, we are here help’, he was thinking of USDA Food Pyramid and the Body Mass Index (BMI). 

    USDA Food Pyramid was completely wrong for years and yet they still feel entitled to give advice even tho the non-marxist scientists still don’t understand food/obesity. 

    Why is obesity rarely considered a disease or genetic issue like other addictions alcohol or drugs? USDA Food Pyramid is useful to about quarter of population who eat moderately on their own without halfwitted advice from government. 

    What harm it cause next? 

    LA Times, Dec 2010:

    “But a growing number of top nutritional scientists blame excessive carbohydrates — not fat — for America’s ills. They say cutting carbohydrates is the key to reversing obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

    For years we’ve been fed the line that eating fat would make us fat and lead to chronic illnesses. “Dietary fat used to be public enemy No. 1,” says Dr. Edward Saltzman, associate professor of nutrition and medicine at Tufts University. “Now a growing and convincing body of science is pointing the finger at carbs …. 

    Consumption of carbohydrates has increased over the years with the help of a 30-year-old, government-mandated message to cut fat.” 

    ——————
    Jane Galt interview with Paul Campos, The Atlantic, July 2009:

    McArdle: Over the last five years or so, I’ve noticed that public health efforts about obesity are not just amping up the volume, but exploring increasingly coercive methods to induce weight loss: taxes on junk food, lawsuits against fast food companies (which are basically a tax on junk food), and so forth. Does that match your analysis?

    Campos: It’s the classic pattern of moral panics. As public concern about the damage being done to the fabric of society by the folk devils increases, increasingly intense demands are made on public officials to “do something” about the crisis, usually by eliminating the folk devils. 

    That of course is the strategy for this crisis. If fat people are the problem, then the solution is to get rid of them, by making them thin people. The most amazing aspect of this whole thing, for me, has always been the imperviouusness of policy makers, and even more so people who consider themselves serious academics and scientists, to the overwhelming evidence that there’s no way to do this. 

    I mean, there’s no better established empirical proposition in medical science that we don’t know how to make people thinner. But apparently this proposition is too disturbing to consider, even though it’s about as well established as that cigarettes cause lung cancer. So all these proposals about improving public health by making people thinner are completely crazy.

    McArdle: If there’s one thing that everyone in America knows, it’s that being fat is really unhealthy. Why do you call it a fake problem?

    Paul: The correlations between higher weight and greater health risk are weak except at statistical extremes. The extent to which those correlations are causal is poorly established. There is literally not a shred of evidence that turning fat people into thin people improves their health. And the reason there’s no evidence is that there’s no way to do it. 

    So saying “let’s improve health by turning fat people into thin people” is every bit as irrational as saying “let’s improve health by turning men into women or old people into young people”.

    • Uh, you don’t know how to make people thin?  It’s called a healthy diet (i.e. lots of vegetables and low calories), exercise, and self control. 

      Granted losing weight is extremely difficult, but not getting fat in the first place is pretty easy.  And I’ll believe the thousands of scientists, nutritionists, doctors, and my own anecdotal evidence which all say obesity is bad for your health over one crackpot lawyer I’d never heard of before who has an axe to grind.

      • “Uh, you don’t know how to make people thin? ”

        No, I don’t. And neither does anyone else. That’s why this turn fat people into thin people is moronic. We are guided by our appetites, not willpower. 

        My father is morbidly obese and I am underweight but both of us are same height(six foot two). Whole paternal side of family is either under/over what is considered healthy. 

        I don’t even have to try and I am underweight, which must mean I am even better person than those who let themselves gain a few extra pounds. I am also six foot two, does that mean males under six foot were lazy and should have tried harder to grow taller? 
        ——–
        A Twin Study of Human Obesity:

        “Height, weight, and body mass index (BMI) were assessed in a sample of 1974 monozygotic and 2097 dizygotic male twin pairs. Concordance rates for different degrees of overweight were twice as high for monozygotic twins as for dizygotic twins. Classic twin methods estimated a high heritability for height, weight, and BMI, both at age 20 years (.80,.78, and.77, respectively) and at a 25-year follow-up (.80,.81, and.84, respectively). Height, weight, and BMI were highly correlated across time, and a path analysis suggested that the major part of that covariation was genetic. These results are similar to those of other twin studies of these measures and suggest that human fatness is under substantial genetic control.” 

        ——
        Gina Kolata, Rethinking Thin:

        “….. the scientists looked at more than just weight loss . . . they measured metabolic changes and psychiatric conditions and body temperature and pulse.  And that led them to a surprising conclusion:  fat people who lose large amounts of weight may look like someone who was never fat, but they are very different.  In fact, by every measurement they seemed like people who were starving ……

        The Rockefeller subjects also had a psychiatric condition that had been termed “semi-starvation neurosis”.  Hirsch’s patients dreamed about food; they fantasized about food, or breaking their diets.  They secreted food in their rooms.  They daydreamed about food.  And they binged . . . eventually more than fifty people went through the months-long process of living in the hospital and losing weight, and every one of them had the physical and psychiatric symptoms of starvation.”

  4. Um. No mention of the processed grain industry and its lobbying efforts? The whole focus on a government-inspired food pyramid is frightening. Why on earth are you letting a government tell you what to eat? Its “opinions” are ALL based on lobbying efforts. Here in the US, the government barred stevia for decades at the behest of Nutrasweet execs. Now suddenly, because gov’t is favoring Kellogg’s over Egglands Best, you’re on board? Eat things that make you healthy and stop listening to “experts.” You are your own expert.

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