Yesterday, June 2, 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled its new nutritional guide, “MyPlate,” replacing the food pyramid icon that had been in use since 1992. This guide builds on the recently revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans, unveiled in January. USDA’s focus on nutritional goals coincides with NFU’s curriculum on food and nutrition, which is currently being taught to Farmers Union youth and adults at day classes and camps across the country and will be released to the public in September.
In comparison with the food pyramid, “MyPlate” is simpler and more practical for everyday use. While the food pyramid focused on overall food consumption, “MyPlate” does not recommend a total number of servings of each food group; rather, it depicts a sample plate with half fruits and vegetables, half grains and protein and a side portion of dairy to emulate at each meal. USDA also lists additional recommendations for Americans interested in more detailed ways to improve their diets, such as eating smaller portions, making half of all grains consumed whole grains, switching to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk, choosing processed foods with lower sodium, and replacing sweetened drinks with water.
As outlined in today’s Washington Post, USDA has been writing nutritional guidelines since 1894, beginning with four food groups: protein, carbohydrates, “mineral matter” (salts and ash from charred meat and vegetables) and fat. Today these groups have transformed into dairy, protein, grains, fruits and vegetables.
With soaring obesity rates, any attempt to help Americans to eat more healthfully is a positive step. The fruit and vegetable consumption recommendations made by “MyPlate” have additional implications for American farmers. Farmers are willing and able to grow more fruits and vegetables, but both federal policy and consumer demand are critical pieces of the equation. Most fruit and vegetable growers are ineligible for risk management tools like crop insurance, which means that in the event of crop failure, weather-related disaster or market collapse they must bear the costs themselves. Combined with the tenuous condition of federal and state funding for agricultural research, particularly for specialty crops and nutrition, the farm community has many challenges to overcome before we can reach “MyPlate’s” nutritional goals.