MyPlate is more colorful than helpful

The new government plan to save the obesity crisis is not going to be all America needs.

Rania Abuisnaineh

“MyPyramid” is no longer my pyramid. I now have a plate, or âÄúMyPlateâÄù âÄî the new, multicolored platter where fruits, vegetables, protein and carbohydrates are nested in their respective proportions. Forget measuring cups, weight beams and obsessive calorie counting; the U.S. Department of AgricultureâÄôs recent modification of the classic food pyramid claims it will transform the daunting task of staying healthy into an easier one.

I recall the government expressing similar sentiments after the release of the 2005 âÄúMyPyramid.âÄù Six years later, the nationâÄôs obesity epidemic is at a high point, with more than two-thirds of adults and one-third ofchildren overweight or obese, according to a recent USDA press release. The Obama administration hopes the âÄúMyPlateâÄù campaign will fix this.

The new icon is carefully tailored to conceptualizethe new dietary guidelines released by the USDA in 2010. Individuals are now recommended to avoid oversized portions, replace sugary drinks with water and âÄîthis is perhaps the most innovative from the list âÄî reserve half the plate for fresh fruits and vegetables.

ItâÄôs seems like a sensible approach, and the $2 million reserved for the âÄúMyPlateâÄù campaign isnâÄôt much compared to the cost of fighting obesity, but âÄúMyPlateâÄù is hardly revolutionary. With all the time, money and effort exerted to treat the obesity epidemic âÄî from the nutrition advice offered by medical professionals to the billions (literally) of articles generated in research âÄî who isnâÄôt aware that a balanced meal is healthier than two slabs of meat on refined white bread?

Coming from a family of 10, my younger siblings will find âÄúMyPlateâÄôsâÄù simple, easy-to-read format more desirable than its predecessor, âÄúMyPyramid.âÄù This preference doesnâÄôt necessarily mean their diets will transform into healthier ones.

Preparing fresh meals comes at an exorbitant price (especially with MinnesotaâÄôs seemingly never-ending winter season). For that reason, the recommendation of filling half our plates with fruits and vegetables will come with great difficulty.

According to reports, approximately 1 percent of federal agricultural subsidies benefit fruit and vegetable farmers in our nation. Large portions of subsidies are directed toward the grain, dairy and meat industry which, ironically, receive less attention in the âÄúMyPlateâÄù configuration.

If we are going to encourage produce-based foods at every meal, shouldnâÄôt the governmentâÄôs subsidy distribution reflect this?

United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel briefly addressed this topic in the recent âÄúMyPlateâÄù press conference. âÄúNow people have asked me, âÄòCould AmericaâÄôs fruit and vegetable growers actually fulfill half of that plate?âÄôâÄù Stenzel said. âÄúI do want to tell you, we can, and weâÄôre looking forward to that opportunity.âÄù

StenzelâÄôs optimism here is only temporarily uplifting, for his vague response isnâÄôt enough to appease public concerns. The âÄúMyPlateâÄù icon will no doubt remain the cynosure of many health advocates and families pursuing lifelong health goals, but it will take more than a colorful diagram to solve the nationâÄôs obesity crisis.

Those who greeted âÄúMyPlateâÄù with exaggerated applauses are forgetting that the obesity crisis falls deeper than the issue of ignorance. Federal nutrition campaigns have done well translating current medical research into the laymanâÄôs jargon, yet they continue overlooking the crux of it all: skewed priorities in government agricultural subsidies and unequal access to clean, healthy food. The problem does not lie in choosing chicken salad over a Big Mac, but rather in bringing fresh ingredients for that salad to the family table.