Kudos to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) for putting out new dietary recommendations that, seemingly, aren’t likely to sit well with Big Food. “Enjoy your food, but eat less”, “Drink water instead of sugary drinks”, “Key Consumer Message: Make half your plate fruits and vegetables”, proclaims the new USDA dietary website. ChooseMyPlate.gov was rolled out this week as the controversial Food Pyramid was replaced by the Food Plate.
“The plate does a better job of reflecting current thinking about healthy diets than previous guides. Its four sectors are unequal. Vegetables get the most space, and dairy – a discretionary choice – is off to the side”, wrote nutrition and public policy expert Marion Nestle in the San Francisco Chronicle. “You are to pile half your plate with fruit and vegetables, and a quarter with grains (half of them whole grains). All these come from plants.”
“Meat” is nowhere to be seen. Click on the “Protein” section of the plate, however, and you learn that this foods group includes “all foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds”. Which leaves the door open to many options, including a 100-percent plant-based diet.
Now, the main question that remains is whether MyPlate, or any other governement dietary recommendations, can truly have an impact on people’s eating choices. Such factors as food access, prices, cooking skills and entrenched habits are unlikely to be impacted by the USDA’s well-meaning advice. Big Food’s marketing messages for industrial, unhealthy foods are also unlikely to abate, although one can expect to see them incorporate some tailored version of the new USDA policy to fit their corporate strategy.