From Pyramid to Plate

This post is from one of the 18 interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Summer Internship Program. These interns are collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, collecting food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from!

Recently, the USDA has issued a new tactic to balance the diets of everyday Americans: the plate. Yes, I know this does not sound like a cunning strategy our government would use to trick citizens into incorporating all food groups into each meal. In fact, it seems surprisingly straightforward. Which leads me to state what I know everyone hates to admit, it would not hurt us to eat a little more vegetables everyday. I’m not talking about the servings of vegetables we are now witnessing being ‘hidden’ within the sugary fruit drinks we are giving to our children. I am referring to the fresh goodness of the earth that is grown in the ground for the sole purpose of benefitting our bodies. A crisp carrot, a cool cucumber, a plump pepper. All three sound more wholesome and palatably pleasing than processed apple juice. Let me point out that vegetables aren’t the only food group getting neglected. The idea of the plate is not just to eat more vegetables, but to eat all foods within proper boundaries.

In case you have not heard the details of this change, let me briefly outline the basics. The traditional pyramid has been used ever since the nutritional benefits of food became a major focus 19 years ago. In 2005, the pyramid underwent an extreme makeover to more clearly show the equal importance of all the food groups and put an emphasis on exercise. Overall, the pyramid has always concentrated on the number of servings in a day. In comparison, the plate centers its attention completely on portions of food groups at each mealtime, resulting in an equally balanced breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Fortunately for us, the same nutritional phrases that we have heard again and again since childhood are still applied. How could anyone ever dare to change the adorable ‘vary your veggies’ or clever ‘make half your grains whole’ idioms?

With any abrupt adjustment, comes the inevitable split of two opposing sides. The USDA and the Obama Administration support the plate symbol as a simplified teaching tool for younger children. By accentuating the fact you can eat anything you want if kept in the correct proportions, it prevents people from worrying about fitting 11 servings of grains into their day. Some dietitians, nutritionists, and other health facilitators are opposed to this change. They resist the alluring simplicity of the plate by stating that an emphasis on proportions is not always nutritionally sound. They maintain that the proportions of food groups should change with your age, your gender, if you are an athlete, your lifestyle, etc.

It is no shock that most adult Americans have not looked at the nutritional pyramid in years. Sure we are taught about it in school, but how many people actually apply it to their diets? By changing this classic teaching tool, the USDA brings some much-needed press back to the importance of what we eat. Simply put, the controversy surrounding the plate is actually causing Americans to notice what they eat. I hope attendance grows at farmer’s markets as Americans realize that their diets need more fruits and vegetables, and what better place to add to these food groups than a place where you can ask exactly how the produce is grown?!

So what is your opinion? Do you like the new modern straightforward plate or prefer the familiarity of the detail-oriented pyramid? Or do you think, instead of a complete replacement, the two symbols should be used in tandem? To formulate an educated outlook of your own, check out

And take a minute to check out my video introduction to nutrition and the recent change affecting American’s eating habits.

See you in the patch,

Susie Zammit

Summer 2011 Michigan Food Warrior

This entry was posted in Food Transparency (the issues), Food Warrior Interns and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to From Pyramid to Plate

  1. Meg says:

    I personally like the simplicity of the new plate. Although I would still argue for even larger portions of fruits and vegetables and less grains. I also like how sugar isn’t even included. Most people are going to eat it anyways so there’s no point in even having it on there and qualifying it by saying “in limited amounts”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s