Wednesday, April 20, 2005

When Pumped-Up Stick Figures Attack

The government has never gone so far as to enforce what we should and should not eat, but it has never been reticent about making strong suggestions on the matter. The United States Department of Agriculture has revised the food pyramid that has been touted since the first President George Bush was in office. The original pyramid was considered radical and complicated, replacing as it did the old and familiar "square meal" system of dietary nutrition. Eventually, though, it started to make sense. But fifteen years is a long time, and change for the sake of change has traditionally been our government's way of showing that it is not just sitting around on its hands listening to an iPod.

Enter MyPyramid. The old pyramid has been toppled over on its side, literally, but something that looks like a steroid enhanced stick figure in a wifebeater shirt. (Video goodness here.) The little setter-up-and-plucker-down-of-pyramids then proceeds to materialize and climb a set of stairs on the sideways pyramid. Rather than having parallel horizontal layers, like the original pyramid, the food groups in the new version are arranged in diagonal vertical chambers. (Someone, somewhere, is right now designing a shirt based on this pattern.) The chambers are otherwise almost identical to the old pyramid's layers: Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Oils, Milk, and Meat&Beans.

Here's where it gets complicated. Since this is the interactive age, the MyPyramid web site allows you to customize your own dietary plan based on your age, sex, and amount of daily physical activity. According to the cartoon, there are a total of twelve separate plans. My meals, it tells me, would best be concentrated around Vegetables, Fruits, and Milk. *sigh* Okay, I admit it. Yes, my low level of physical activity is not exactly calling out for more pizza, spaghetti and burgers. But do I really need the federal government to tell me that?

Every Presidential administration since my adolescence has done something to rock the boat when it comes to changing the way we look at out diets. Under Ronald Reagan, it was the infamous "Ketchup as a vegetable" fiasco. The uproar was uncalled for. Obviously, the UDSA sent field agents to observe dietary habits of America's school students and adjusted their standards accordingly after noticing that most kids were applying several tomatoes worth of ketchup to their lunches. How often is government that responsive to its citizens? Under George Bush (41), it was the original good pyramid. Bill Clinton presided over the "Nutrition Facts" mandate, which has affected me more than any of the others since I look at that portion of the product label before I even noticed what the product itself is. It was only a matter of time before George W. Bush's USDA came up with something new.

One thing about this whole customized food pyramid bugs me. When I look at the word(s) "MyPyramid", I keep seeing it as "McPyramid". Is my subconscious trying to tell me something?

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