Starting as a rectangle in the late 50s and becoming a pyramid throughout the 80s and 90s, the USDA has finally found a symbol for healthy eating that we can all truly associate with food: a plate.
First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled the federal government’s new food icon, MyPlate on June 2, 2011. The new icon is meant to serve as a reminder to Americans to make healthier food choices and build a well-balanced, nutritious plate at each meal.
“It’s an easy-to-understand visual cue to help consumers adopt healthy eating habits consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” according to the USDA’s press announcement.
The new MyPlate icon emphasizes the fruit, vegetable, grains and protein food groups, which each have different colored sections. A smaller circle next to plate represents dairy, possibly suggesting a glass of milk or cup of yogurt on the side.
“This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we’re eating and as a mom, I can already tell how much this is going to help parents across the country,” First Lady Obama said. “When mom or dad comes home from a long day of work, we’re already asked to be a chef, a referee, a cleaning crew. So it’s tough to be a nutritionist, too. But we do have time to take a look at our kids’ plates.”
The plate replaces the food pyramid, which has served as a symbol of healthy eating for the last two decades. Nutrition experts have chastised the pyramid for years because of its complex nature and confusing dietary advice.
The trouble for the USDA has always been its dual role to both educate Americans on healthy nutrition and promote all the food produced in the U.S.
Earlier version of the food pyramid succumbed to pressure from meat, sugar, dairy and other large food lobbies that did not want an unfavorable placement in the nation’s most respected nutrition symbol, according to Marion Nestle in her book Food Politics.
But times have changed, and the nation now has record obesity rates among children and adults alike. The USDA plans to work with First Lady Obama’s Let’sMove!