Last Thursday the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled MyPlate, which replaces the inscrutable MyPyramid, which replaced the much-maligned original food pyramid, as the government's go-to graphic for nagging you to eat your vegetables. The pie chart has no room for pie, although I suppose you could cobble one together from ingredients in the wedges labeled "grains" and "fruit," as long as you managed to avoid using fat or added sugar. While the 1992 pyramid included a triangle for "Fats, Oils, & Sweets" (which were confusingly placed at the pinnacle, even though we were instructed to use them "sparingly"), there is no such category on MyPlate. In fact, the plate does not even have room for dairy products, which are relegated to a saucer on the side, making it seem as if the government is urging Americans to observe Jewish dietary laws by separating meat from milk.
Visually, MyPlate is an improvement over its predecessors, which is not saying much. The 1992 food pyramid was fundamentally misconceived, since there was a natural tendency to think food groups toward the top were favored over those on the bottom, exactly the opposite of the message the USDA was trying to convey. The 2005 update addressed that problem by dividing the pyramid into vertical, color-coded wedges, which raised the question of why a pyramid should be used at all. The answer, apparently, was to give the stylized human figure on the left something to run up, thereby illustrating the importance of exercise. Michelle Obama, whose pet cause is getting her fellow Americans to eat less and exercise more, reportedly championed MyPlate, even though it takes a step backward by leaving out physical activity. Would it have been so hard to transform the pyramid jogger into a plate spinner?
One thing MyPlate has in common with MyPyramid is the first-person pronoun's implication that the government's official nutritional advice is all about personal choice. Confronted by the latest good-for-you graphic, many Americans are apt to think, "That may be Michelle Obama's plate, but it's not mine." That's assuming they take notice of it at all.