When Butter Was a Food Group


Yesterday, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum blogged about the new food pyramid, which is now known as MyPlate. It looks like this:

your plate, maybe

There's a new exhibit set to open this weekend at the National Archives, which features an early version of the government food recs from World War II. And it looks awfully familiar.

now that's a plateful!

The tone and implications are just as imperious, of course: MyPlate aims to keep Americans from becoming fat and expensive by nagging us to eat our fruits and veggies. The WWII-era "U.S. Government Chart" also wants to fiddle with American eating habits for patriotic purposes. The disc in the center reminds us that "U.S. needs us strong" for doing things like fighting wars and walking purposefully toward the camera. Uncle Sam has no use for the skinny, weak, or Vitamin A deficient.

The bottom taglines are weirdly parallel as well. Both remind viewers that our food choices are our own, even as taxpayer money goes toward trying to get Americans to dine on what the government would prefer they eat. And despite today's periodic crackdowns and the temptation to romanticize a time when butter was its own food group, our plates are more our own now than they were when the second chart came out. Wartime wasn't a good time for food freedom in the 20th century. Just ask anyone who ever had a ration book.

NEXT: The Lessons of Weinergate

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  1. The “new” food group diagram reminds me of this: http://www.timewarptoys.com/79simon.JPG

    1. OMG! That was sooooo damn funny. Seriously, I almost fell off my chair after the robot cabman line.

    1. I like this one better!

  2. Cut out the grain and dairy, and they might be onto something.

    But what do I know?

    1. Exactly what I know, but we’re in the minority…

    2. Agreed on the grains. I agree a paleo diet has a lot to offer and is probably the healthiest choice (if one can stick to it which is rare).

      But arent some populations able to digest dairy products OK? Just like some populations (e.g. Asians) do OK with starches (rice)? Wouldn’t this suggest that some people can adapt to a food group introduced into the human diet after the advent of agriculture?

      1. “Digest” dairy insofar as they can break down lactose, because they have the lactase enzyme. Whether the rest of the dairy matter it rides on into the body and how smartly the body deals with it is above my pay grade.

        Some people inherit the evolved ability to eat peanuts, and some people drop dead after eating them. I don’t know that being able to survive eating a peanut means its part of a “healthy” diet. But like I said

        1. Good point–I suppose that the fact that someone can tolerate or survive on a food doesn’t mean it’s ideal. We all know of people who drank a lot and smoked like chimneys and lived to be 90.

          1. My biggest fan, Kurt Vonnegut for one.

        2. And for those who are lactose-intolerant, that’s why we ferment!

          1. There’s goat and sheep milk, too?

  3. In my day the essential food groups included cocaine, to restore vigor and promote longevity.

    1. Elementary!

  4. When Butter Was a Food Group

    What the hell do you mean, was?

    1. The plate represents the butter group in the new diagram, right? Underlying all the others like it should.

      1. Butter is the table.

        *somewhere in the distance, a loon cries*

        1. Oh, sry, I didn’t interpret the green background as a table, but now it makes sense.

          1. I though butter was a given and an ingredient within every group.

    2. I’m with Jim on this.

      And we’re not alone.

      1. Great, informative website!

    3. I can assure you it still is in the Gobbler house.

  5. This is great and all, but there is no guarantee that the private market will result in everyone’s meals having all food groups in these relative proportions. The market is already rationing fruits and vegetables by price; the poor can’t afford half their plates to hold fruits and veggies. Thus, there is no danger whatsoever in rationing food through, say, a board of unelected experts appointed by the president. And while I’d like to just give them checks with which to buy the right foods, there’s no guarantee they’d make the right choices with that money. The only solution to this market failure is government food centers at which properly trained government agents will serve all citizens their government plates.

    1. It’s good, but it needs more buzzwords. Try to work in “food deserts” and the dangers of “corporate-designed hyperpalatable frankenfoods” next time.

      1. Don’t forget SCHOOL LUNCHES!

        1. Well, you can’t talk about school lunches without OH FUCKING CHRIST IT’S A GODDAMN PEANUT! EVACUATE THE FUCKING SCHOOL!

      2. GMO conspicuously missing.

      3. without “mandatory” it will fail just like healthcare.
        Also, there is a worrisome lack of addression of America’s “last taboo” – the lack of fiber that results in small stools, which can be tied directly to impotence, halitosis, insomnia, necrophilia, and kleptomania. Some say nymphomania, but I say that is a feature and not a bug…
        Of course, should the program be enacted, a big public works program to improve the nations sewers would have to be undertaken…

    2. That’s all very fascinating, but how does it result in our having roads?

    3. Oh shut the fuck up. Bananas are regularly under 40 cents a pound. Apples, oranges, lettuce, potatoes, carrots, peppers, cabbage, broccoli and shit tons more can easily be found for under a dollar a pound. How many pounds do you need to eat a day?

      Drop the “but poor folks cant afford vegetables!!” Its fucking bullshit and a 5 minute trip to the grocery store instantly exposes it as such.

      1. Don’t eat the hook!

      2. Yep, I make less than $16,000 (usually closer to $12,000) a year and skip over meat every now and then to save money. When I do eat meat it is in the range of 1lb + maybe a dozen eggs in a week. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (oats, wheat, spelt, etc) are my staples with large emphasis on the fruits and vegetables.

    4. The poor can’t afford vegetables?!?! You’re kidding…kale is like $0.99 a POUND.

      1. Yes but then you cook it and are left with 1/4 of greens. 🙂

  6. “In addition to the basic 7….eat any other foods you want”

    Now that is some good advice.

    1. You have to eat the basic 7 first.

      There’s always a catch.

      1. Who’d have room for more though? I feel stuffed just looking at those 7 groups.

    2. Let’s see, a bacon/banana sandwich with butter and cheese, fries on the side, knocks down six of the seven. Add a glass of OJ, and you’re home free.

      1. Add vodka to the oj and that sounds like a great breakfast!

      2. A bacon/banana sandwich?

      3. What would Elvis do?

    3. Though not everything labeled food is food.

      Just sayin’.

  7. 1942: Eat any other foods you want

    2011: Eat me

  8. butter is better – for cooking, baking and slathering on top of corn muffins.

    Margarine? meh.

    1. One nice thing about margarine is that it never goes bad.
      Put an open container in a dumpster for a week and nothing will grow in it. It has no nutritional value. None. Not even bacteria will eat it.
      Now that I think about it, maybe that’s not such a good thing.

      1. We should design foodstuffs that are only edible by man and certain select bugs and bacteria.

  9. That old graphic is informational, and the new one is narrative. It’s the story of a multi-million-dollar design that’s so shitty, the word “Plate” in big Playskool letters isn’t enough to make anyone register that it’s a picture of a plate, so they had to last-minute stick a random image-search result for “fork” next to it.

    It still doesn’t register as a plate. It’s the button cover on that twelve-way switch on the front of your DVD player that does eleven things things you never do, and fails at the one thing you want it to do. You try to skip commercials you can’t skip by pressing it fifteen times really fast sometimes, so the right side of the button is dark and shiny.

    1. The only thing worse than design by committee is design by committee and lobbyists.

      1. Lobbmmittee.

        1. (or is that a committee of lobsters? eh, nm)

        2. Commyists?

  10. Holy crap the colors actually make sense in the 1940s! Also its actually somewhat useful advice…

    BTW, the food pyramid was introduced in 1992, iirc. Obesity has skyrocketed since 1992. Democrat logic can only conclude 1 thing.

    And, all these dumbass self-styled health experts in the comments invariably make me laugh. “GRAINS n DAIRY R BAD DURRR!” No, just because YOURE a fat piece of shit who cant handle their pancakes without gaining weight, or because you get explosive diarreah after a bowl of ice cream, doesn’t mean these things are “bad for you”. It means YOU, personally, have shitty genes. If you want to eat shitty hamster food and down nasty protein shakes, whatever. But don’t act like your shitty-genetics-special wannabe-bodybuilder diet is in any way smarter or better informed.

    1. That explains why America has exploded with “shitty genes” over the past 30 years.

      Also, those who are saying so aren’t suggesting hamster food and protein shakes. They’re suggesting fatty meat cuts, more butter (I’m not on the dairy-hating train) and tropical oils, fresh vegetables (real vegetables, not corn).

    2. Man I sound like a fucking jerk. Sorry tovarischii. I don’t doubt paleo dieters have found something that works well for them. That said, long live dairy and grain!

  11. Mmmmmmm, suddenly I have a craving for pie. Well done Mrs Obama.

  12. What about the poor? Maybe they can’t afford all these plates. Are they to be deprived of dairy? And doesn’t the fork exclude our Asian and other residents who don’t always use forks? And why a white fork?

    1. It’s also implying that we should use those special plates that keep the food groups separate instead of intermingling.

      The chart is racist.

      1. I concur. I refuse to bow down to their bourgeois hegemony.

        I’m going to have a bowl of borscht.

        1. You see how the milk is placed in a separate space away from the other foods?

          The obvious implication is that white’s racial purity needs to be preserved.

          The other races should be kept separate too, but especially the whites.

      2. It is our heritage to keep the corn and peas separate. Why, in your crazy world you would countenance mixing Asian and Mexican foods, resulting in some bastard cuisine and the collapse of decent civilization…

        1. Speaking of that, Tucson for a while had this sushi restauraunt that served the sushi rolled up in the seaweed burrito style. It was horrible.

          So actually, I guess am opposed to mixing Mexican and Asian cuisine. Cheese sauce just doesn’t belong any where near stir-fry.

  13. “In Addition to the Basic Seven…Eat Any Other Foods You Want”


  14. So, what I’m seeing is that back during the depression, someone created a dumb-ass socialist inspired department of food propaganda, and this entity has continued in existence, long past it’s usefulness, periodically excreting colorful graphs, like an undead version of Adobe Illustrator.

    1. Said department may still be at war with starvation in a world of obesity.

      1. Said department has ALWAYS been at war with East Starvation.

    2. Actually, it reminds me of fascist/Nazi propaganda more than communist propaganda.

      “Kraft durch Freude” and all that. The healthy worker is a hard worker and hard workers make the State strong.

      But then, I’ve seen much more fascist/Nazi propaganda than communist propaganda.

  15. Gee Uncle Sam, have you tried The Auschwitz Diet? I hear it’s a gas!


  16. What the government tries to tell us it wants us to do, and what it fiscally promotes to get us to do are two different things. If the US didnt subsidize cheap grain to grow animal protein, americans would not buy so much cheap low quality meat, and butter and milk would be more expensive. Ditto for sugar and candy.

    Issue after issue, what the government says it wants, and what it funds, are opposed. Food policy promotes obesity, but the government says it wants people to eat healthy. The government literally owned the car companies, but didn’t raise CAFE standards. They say they take a hard line to Israel, yet it continues to fund settlements via charitable donations, and we continue to spend aid money there.

    The government is blue in the face talking away what it is actually doing with bald faced lies and thin policies.

    1. If the federal government didn’t own 40% of U.S. land, land would be cheaper and it would be cheaper to graze cattle (cattle shouldn’t be eating grain). Also butter and milk are also expensive now because most states REQUIRE pasteurization and homogenization. It would be illegal for me to walk over to a neighbor who just has a random cow in their field and buy milk from him. Regulations add to the costs. Real sugar would be CHEAPER without all the import tariffs and our trade embargo with Cuba.

      1. …land would be cheaper and it would be cheaper to graze cattle….

        Actually, no, the BLM charges below market rents to ranchers to graze cattle on public land, just as the Forest Service sells timber at below market prices to lumber companies.

        Privatizing public lands would probably provide great benefits to most citizens of this country including reducing the tax burden required for these subsidies but it certainly wouldn’t benefit the connected parties that currently get to use public lands at our expense.

        1. I’m saying sell off public lands to private individuals. I don’t think all ranchers use public land.

  17. You right-wingers are understandably partial to fat asses. That’s where you can shove your antiregulation shit.

    1. If you say so. You better lube up first, though.

  18. If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.

  19. The only need two groups for that new food plate plants and meats. When is the government going to learn from their mistake? They say our largest food group should be grains that is bull that is the very thing causing the obesity and heart disease epidemic in America, now granted grains do have good nutrients but our bodies cannot digest them properly plus you can get those same good nutrients from vegetables.

    1. Well, they do when they add them back in.
      And then, there are all the antinutrients in grain.

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