I can't help but reflect on the new USDA "My Plate" guidelines. First: bravo for finally trashing the pyramid. It was more than greatly flawed. It remained so with its equally confusing face lift not many years ago by adding a person running up the side of its face. Now we have a plate, which is at least getting us closer to an image associated with the dining table.
My Plate has a few things going for it, mainly in its visual resemblance to something we can all relate to, but remains dangerously simplistic for the public at large.
What each model has failed to recognize is the important issue of the quality of the food we choose to eat. Rewind for a moment to early Eskimo tribes of Alaska or Eastern Siberia for example. What did their "My Plate" look like? A 75% daily intake of protein and fat consisting of caribou, polar bear, fish, seal or whale meat, perhaps cooked, perhaps shaved raw from frozen bones including the animal's rich stores of fat and organs. The remaining percentage of nutrition came from a small amount of gathered tubers, berries, grasses and seaweed when seasonally available. These cultures where healthy, producing strong, round, happy babies. They did not drink electrolyte enhanced sports drinks or nibble on rice cakes. Most importantly, their lack of a modern democratic government kept them from falling victim to its agendas.
Here is the problem with our government's suggestions on what we should eat. They need us to consume the most of what they subsidize the most, and it's gotten them into a dilemma. With obesity at record levels, especially plaguing today's youth, we have a very expensive health crisis on our hands. But, how can they tell us to eat local, buy mostly produce and grass-fed meats and still hold the hand of their most powerful constituents? They can't. So as long as agriculture is dictated and funded by the US government, we will continue to see double standards like the new My Plate guideline as a means to gloss over a major political contradiction.
The dairy industry, corn/grain industry, and meat industry need the support of the government to be the colossal superpowers they are. All you have to do is look at campaigning to see where the money lies. "Beef- It's What's For Dinner," Pork- The Other White Meat," "Milk- Does A Body Good." Or how about all the famous athletes and celebrities sporting milk mustashes or gracing the front of a box of Frosted Flakes. Are these flashy advertising efforts for our health or for a profit? If the goal was in favor of the former, we may have a very different public health reality.
The food industry does not make a profit peddling broccoli, let alone diet diversity. They want us to load our carts with sodas (corn industry), lunch meat (pork, beef, poultry industry), Oreos (corn and seed oil industry), boxed cereals (corn and grain industry), and ultra-pasteurized gallons of low-fat milk (dairy industry). A diet like this will eventually kill even the most resistant individual, yet this is where the profit is made.
Who profits from a healthy individual? Not the pharmaceutical industry. Not the industries mentioned above. Not the hospitals. Not your family doctor. You may save insurance companies a ton, but then again if you are well, you may not need them. How about your dentist? Physical therapist? Mental therapist? They would all take a financial hit if you were robustly healthy. Oooh, reality bites, and yes, it all comes back to My Plate.
I will tell you what is not on my plate:
#1: My government whispering in my ear
#2: Milk from cows which stand in their waste and eat subsidized grain morning and night without ever feeling the sun on their backs, teaming with antibiotics and chemicals to keep their milk "safe."
#3: Corn syrup laden products filled to the brim with concentrated toxic pesticide residues
#4: A big pile of white rice, stripped of its original fiber, vitamins, and minerals
#5: A boneless, skinless chicken breast tender not from my clever marinade but from the animal's forced, indoor, un-exercised life of muscular atrophy.
#6: Vegetables shipped from Latin America where we still enjoy gaining a profit by selling them our "unsafe" DDT
#7: Spinach picked by underpaid, undervalued workers
#8: A color coded chart
Now for what is on my plate:
#1: Solar nutrition taken up by the grass then taken up by the animals which graze it
#2: Small fish from deep cold waters
#3: Well prepared, intact whole grains
#4: Pungent garlic, onions and spices
#5: Freedom of choice
#6: Curries rich with coconut milk
#7: Good fat
#8: Eggs from bug-eating, sun-loving chickens
#9: Flavorful vegetables full of unadulterated vitamins and trace minerals absorbed from real garden soil
#10: The occasional slug lurking on my salad leaf. . . a special treat for my hens.
#11: Fermented foods, teeming with friendly bacteria to help restore and aid digestion
#12: Seasonal, ripe, juicy fruits
# 13: Community
# 14: A moment to say Thanks before the first bite
# 15: Real patriotism
# 16: Bold flavors
# 17: Variety
In the end, the reality is: how do we help most individuals understand the importance of choosing wisely when it comes to food?
My answer would be to view government recommendations with caution. Until industries are held accountable for their products, food products should be approached carefully. I believe it unrealistic to think that each busy mom or grade-schooler can consult a chart and know what food options are best with so many forces at work to confuse them.
Those who manufacture processed, unhealthy foods which appear cheap need to be held accountable. It shouldn't be the public's responsibility to spend hours upon hours in the grocery store reading and comparing labels to ensure they are putting a worthwhile item in their cart-but it is. Soda should be heavily taxed. Oreos should carry a warning or be pulled from the shelves. We need our choices to be more trust worthy if the government is going to "okay" them for sale. If the food industry is comfortable selling us products which have been proven to negatively impact our health, we should send them to court.
When dog food and baby formula imported from China revealed toxic levels of melamine, we did what anyone in their right mind would do and discontinued imports.
Why should it be any different with other ingredients that make us sick?
In summation, the consumer is not the only one needing a lesson in what is appropriate to put on the table. I believe the vast majority of the public is doing the very best they can to stay well despite all of the many mixed messages thrown at them. I do not know a single person who enjoys being sick or overweight.
Additionally, it is impossible to claim that food and politics are unrelated. As we try our best to make the right choices, I think it's high time to expect the same from our government.Those in charge of what gets stocked on grocery store shelves need to be held accountable. I'm sure if they put their minds to it, they can give us more than a new color coded chart.