Tax Dollars at Work: USDA Replaces Food Pyramid With Pie Chart

Posted: May 31, 2011 12:56 PM

That pyramid was pretty hard to comprehend. Fortunately, the US Department of Agriculture is changing it to a dinner plate, to make it easier for us to understand how to feed ourselves.

The Obama administration is about to ditch the food pyramid, that symbol of healthy eating for the last two decades. In its place officials are dishing up a simple, plate-shaped symbol, sliced into wedges for the basic food groups and half-filled with fruits and vegetables.

The circular plate, which will be unveiled Thursday, is meant to give consumers a fast, easily grasped reminder of the basics of a healthy diet. It consists of four colored sections, for fruits, vegetables, grains and protein, according to several people who have been briefed on the change. Beside the plate is a smaller circle for dairy, suggesting a glass of low-fat milk or perhaps a yogurt cup.

Few nutritionists will mourn the passing of the pyramid, which, while instantly recognized by millions of American school kids, parents and consumers, was derided by nutritionists as too confusing and deeply flawed because it did not distinguish clearly between healthy foods like whole grains and fish and less healthy choices like white bread and bacon. A version of the pyramid currently appearing on cereal boxes, frozen dinners and other foods has been so streamlined and stripped of information that many people have no idea what it represents.

“It’s going to be hard not to do better than the current pyramid, which basically conveys no useful information,” said Walter C. Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Willett said he had not seen the new logo.

The tab for this project is $2 million, much of which is allocated to marketing efforts. USDA officials are hoping that seeing the plate will cue consumers to eat more vegetables at dinner, unlike the previous food pyramid, which apparently did nothing but confuse us. The USDA is planning to impart its healthy eating wisdom on the rest of us this Thursday.