First of all, one million spacebucks to the person who can tell me exactly what the difference is between the FDA and the USDA.
About a year and a half ago, the USDA discarded the oft-revamped Food Pyramid and replaced it with this guy...
As if the previous pyramid didn't confuzzle us enough with its distorted, convoluted rainbow-ray configuration, I would say the USDA's latest effort does a fair job at it as well. And actually, I think I might feel insulted with the above diagram...while on the surface, it looks like a cute, colorful shape-sort puzzle...but as I ponder the wedge-shaped pieces, I realize, I have no idea what the pieces mean. I. Don't. Understand.
And that realization leads to other, scarier ones about government agencies. But I digress.
This MyPlate graphic here indicates that I should eat a large wedge shape full of vegetables every day, followed by a slightly smaller wedge shape of grains...and I dunno, a quick eyeball seems to conclude that I can have the same wedge-size of fruit and protein every day too. Oh, and there's a cute little blue circle on the side that indicates I get a cute little blue circle's worth of dairy every day as well. But, judging by the circle and its placement, it appears the government wants me to drink my dairy requirement.
Oh, where do I begin with the questions?
1. Firstly, what size of plate are we supposed to be using to form our wedges? I mean, the difference between a 8" and 10" plate could be the difference between an extra asparagus spear (and thus, the difference between life and death).
2. Am I doomed to a life without cheese? Or, I am supposed to melt it and drink it?
3. I know that peanut butter is high in protein. So, let's say I want to fill my purple wedge with Skippy Extra Crunchy. Because, you know, that's pretty much what the diagram indicates. But what about the saturated fats? Aren't those what clog my arteries and cause massive heart attacks? But...but...but...
4. What if I'm eating a casserole? Where does that fit in on the diagram? I mean, MyPlate is pretty exclusive, and I'm nervous that if a Protein crossed in Vegetable territory, there would be gang wars of devastating proportions. And where the hell do I put the Cream of Mushroom Soup (that acts as the binder)? Dairy? I'm drinking it?
5. No mention of fats on this schematic. No EVOO. What's Rachael Ray going to say?
I think I'll stop there. As I search the Internet, it's obvious other people have problems with this diagram as well...so they provide their own interpretations, for better or worse. For example...
This guy here makes mention of fats, sodium, and sugar. And exercise. We also get more specifics, like 4.5 oz of whole grains a day (but no examples of what those grains might be). The most guidance comes in the veggie column, compensating for the poor fruit recommendation that follows it. The protein column sort of addresses my peanut butter question...but my plate size question, my dairy beverage question, and my casserole question go unanswered.
And then here's this guy, courtesy of the nutrition folks at Harvard. The blue circle is now called 'Water'...and Dairy has a brief cameo within Water's description. I personally get a kick out of the dig aimed at tuber-lovers in the Vegetable section ("Potatoes and french fries don't count"). This diagram might treat exercise the most maturely of all the pictographs I found - 'Stay active'. Yeah, that's about all that needs to be said about that.
There's a significant amount of fine print on this one, and for good reason. Each section on this poster includes tips on how to more easily include this items into your diet. Some are old-hat ("top cereal with berries or diced fruit") and some are sort of less so ("add barley, bulgar, or quinoa to soups and stews"). But still...
And look at our friend Dairy...look at his bullet points! One of the four subpoints talks about dairy beverages, the other focus more on dairy and food! And now, finally, at the end of it all...I feel as if I sort of have the answer to the casserole question.
But now, I have more questions...like, why is the government making healthy eating so damn complicated? I feel like I've just played an exhausting game of nutritional Tetris, where more is at stake than going to the next level. My health, present and future, hangs in the balance.