Tag Archives: Food pyramid

Nutrition Politics

Abortion. Immigration. Taxation. In the United States, one national policy issue after another has tumbled into the quagmire of political polarization.

But nutrition? One would hope that rational minds at the opposing ends of the political spectrum could achieve a “meeting of the minds” about public school lunch programs. Alas, during the past two weeks, that issue exploded into rancorous political debate as well.

The argument began on May 1st, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a Press Release on its official government web site entitled Ag Secretary Perdue Moves To Make School Meals Great Again. Its indirect reference to Donald Trump’s political campaign slogan was sure to catch the attention of his political opponents.

And what did the Press Release announce? The federal government has decided to return certain school lunch ingredient decisions to local control. Some schools, for instance, may no longer need to serve all grain products in whole-grain form. Others may now be permitted to let low-sodium meals meet a less stringent sodium target. And all schools will soon be allowed to serve 1% flavored milk (gasp!) as an alternative to fat-free milk.

That drew the ire of former First Lady Michelle Obama, who appeared with her colleague Sam Kass at the annual summit of Partnership for a Healthier America. Ms. Obama’s response?

She pointedly questioned “… why someone is okay with your kids eating crap.” And Mr. Kass added that “… we’ve already seen (the Department of Agriculture) try to ensure there’s tons of salt …” in school meals.

Feeding children crap? With tons of salt? That’s a bit extreme, isn’t it? And yet the Release did include a few choice comments that undoubtedly provoked the ire of the political opposition.

For example, Perdue criticized the Obama-era regulations by claiming that “… kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash …” He continued:

“A perfect example is in the south, where the schools want to serve grits. But the whole grain variety has little black flakes in it, and the kids won’t eat it. The school is compliant with the whole grain requirements, but no one is eating the grits.”

Perhaps it’s true that public school students throughout the South are rising up in rebellion because of little (albeit healthy) black flakes in their grits. On other other hand, perhaps Perdue is simply telling a folksy fictional anecdote. It’s impossible to tell from the Press Release, which provides no supporting information.

So where do we stand? Apparently, official nutrition regulations that make minor transitions from no-fat milk to 1% milk, and from whole-grain foods to not-quite whole-grain foods, are now being released to the public with folksy tales under sloganeering headlines. And opponents are now leaping to engage in battle by accusing government officials of feeding children “crap.”

Such discourse cannot possibly produce intelligent nutrition policy, can it? But in a world of rabid nutrition politics, it’s the only dish that is being served to us.

From Snacks To Software: Seeking Simplicity

The melodic piano concertos of Sergei Rachmaninoff. The subtle tastes and fragrances of fine French wines. And the extensive software programming that make global positioning satellite technology useful.

What do all of these creative endeavors share in common? To put it simply, they are all astonishingly complex. Although many of us can appreciate their forms and functions, very few of us can comprehend fully how they have been constructed, or how to construct similar works ourselves.

But complexity is not always a desirable trait; quite the contrary, simplicity is often valued instead. And last week, a pair of endeavors from opposite corners of American society earned widespread acclaim and admiration because of their abilities to “keep things simple.”

Goodbye, Food Pyramid …

The United States Department of Agriculture was widely hailed last week for replacing its visually complex food pyramid with a far more elementary food plate. To be sure, the original version of the pyramid was once widely admired, with its sizable foundation of healthy bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, and its relatively small capstone of unhealthy fats, oils, and sweets.

But as nutrition science evolved over the years, the food pyramid grew more complex. A flight of stairs was added to the left side of the pyramid in order to stress the importance of exercise. And the recommended portion sizes were added in precise measurement categories like ounces and cups, some stated in terms of a tenth of a unit.

According to today’s Department of Agriculture, what we now require in place of this complexity is a few simple messages. First, half of everything we eat should consist of fruits and vegetables, with a slight emphasis on vegetables over fruit. The other half of our diet should consist of grains and protein, with (hopefully) no fats or sweets added to our meals at all. And a moderate amount of low-fat dairy, perhaps in a glass of milk, is a healthy approach to washing down any meal.

To the delight of health professionals everywhere, the USDA chose to focus on these three simple assertions by developing a food plate to take the place of the pyramid. It now appears to be gaining popularity, not because of any complexity, but rather because of its sheer simplicity.

… Hello, Cloud Computing Devices!

A perfectly well balanced meal can still be a complicated endeavor … and so can be a perfectly functioning computer system! Microsoft, Apple, and even handheld device manufacturers like Research In Motion and Nokia have struggled during the past few decades to develop operating systems that boot up promptly, help users locate files easily, and avoid crashes, viruses, and other malfunctions.

In other words, computer and mobile phone customers are still searching for an operating system that can help them manage basic computing functions in a quick and reliable manner. They don’t necessarily need powerful computing devices; instead, they’d gladly settle for simplicity instead.

This is the market segment that represents the target of Google’s Chromebook, a revolutionary product that will be introduced later this month. It has no operating system, other than a souped-up version of Google’s Chrome web browser. And it has no built-in hard drive or other storage device; users are expected to find services in the internet “cloud” to help them with such functions.

What it offers is perfect simplicity. Push a button, and it boots up in eight seconds. Type a Google email address and password, and a web browser appears. At that moment, all of the services of the internet become available, with no software updates or security upgrades to slow the user down. Will it work?  Time will tell … and Google hopes that the market will appreciate the device for its sheer simplicity.

A Social Backlash

Have you heard about the restaurant entrepreneurs who recently began focusing on the development of a culinary competition dedicated to grilled cheese sandwiches? How about the investors who have recently begun managing bowling alleys around the nation? They all appear to be responding to a desire for simple pleasures in American society today.

Consider, as well, the recent trends towards small and efficient automobiles, as well as iPod, iPhone, and iPad devices that sport just a single user button on the face of each unit. Indeed, the popularity of these products may owe much to a societal backlash against complexity. Gone are the days when buyers would marvel at horribly complex automobile dashboards, or at mammoth stereophonic sound systems with multiple decks of components. Today, we all seem to admire simplicity.

Indeed, the new food plate and the emerging ChromeBook seem to be focusing on the same underlying desire, an inclination by the American public to value simplicity over complexity. At a time when home mortgages and health insurance policies have become maddeningly complicated, and when planning for retirement has become an intellectually mind-boggling activity, it is no wonder that Americans are interested in “keeping things simple” whenever they can do so.