Food for Soul and Body

REMEMBER THE BASIC FOUR? Nutritional teaching since the 1950s dictated that our health depended on eating from every food group, every day. Charts illustrated with glass milk bottles, smiling fish, and shiny red apples encouraged generous portions of milk and dairy products; meat, poultry, and eggs (beans and nuts also fell in this category); bread and cereal; and fruits and vegetables.

Long overdue for an update, this quartet was revised recently--but, alas, temporarily--by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reflect 35 years of research into heart disease, cancer, and nutrition. Three years of extensive consumer tests, review by 30 government and university experts, and revising the chart produced a new "Eating Right" pyramid, which again designated four food groups but stacked them in a fundamentally different order of priority.

Bread, pasta, cereal, and grains anchored the bottom of the pyramid, with six to 11 portions recommended per day. On the next level up were generous portions of vegetables and fruits. Third came the suggested two to three servings of dairy products, meat, eggs, and nuts. Finally, at the top with a "use sparingly" label, were fats, oils, and sweets.

But the meat and dairy industries were not happy with the new geometry. Pressure mounted on USDA Secretary Edward Madigan to prevent the pyramid from being distributed publicly. Just as it was going to press last year, Madigan called a halt to production, saying the new chart needed more study, particularly as to how it would affect children and low-income Americans. Who knows if we will ever see it again.

Granted, the USDA has the unfortunate mandate to promote as well as police agricultural products. But such extreme sensitivity to the meat and dairy lobbies does a serious disservice to the American public.

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Sojourners Magazine February-March 1992
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