New Food Guide Lays An Egg

May 01, 1992

The U.S. Agriculture Department's new "food guide pyramid" is going to leave a bad taste in a lot of mouths -- and not just because the government wasted nearly a million tax dollars to produce a graphic essentially the same as one it prepared a year earlier.

The new graphic attempts to update the old "four basic food groups" pie chart, which suggested fruits and vegetables, grains, meat and dairy products be eaten in roughly equal amounts.

Now the food groups are separated into layers on a pyramid. The wider the layer, the more one should eat of those foods. Grains form the base. Just above that is a narrower layer for fruits and vegetables, and above that is an even narrower layer for meat and dairy products and nuts. Atop the pyramid rests the fats, oils and sweets group, which the government cautions should be used "sparingly."

Except for some minor changes, this is the same pyramid the government almost released in April of 1991. That graphic, however, was held back for more tests on the public. One year and $855,000 later, the tests have been completed, the results are in -- and we have virtually the same pyramid.

Credit the government for at least trying to spread the message that grains, fruits and vegetables are preferable to foods associated with heart disease, namely meat and dairy products.

But the USDA gets egg on its face with this amateurish graphic produced with big government bucks by a Boston market research firm. A clever teen with an Apple computer could have worked up something better, and probably wouldn't have charged even four figures.

Also, by including a fats, oils and sweets group (which recalls "the Butterfinger group" from the Bart Simpson candy bar commercial), the government implies, unwittingly or not, that these should be as much a part of a daily diet as the other foods. Could this perhaps be the handiwork of fats, oils and sweets lobbyists?

Agriculture Secretary Edward R. Madigan was, in fact, accused of giving meat and dairy foods undeserved prominence in the graphic because of pressure from meat and dairy associations. Mr. Madigan denies this. But it's not hard to conclude that this confusing new graphic resulted from the crazy kinds of twists and turns we've come to expect from the bloated federal bureaucracy. Maybe the new symbol should have been a pretzel.

Pretzel. Fats, oils and sweets group, right?

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