Food plate and not pyramid
Some rare-ish good news: the USDA has finally caved to pressure from health advocates (including Michelle Obama) and switched from the misleading food pyramid to a far more health-centric pie chart called the "food plate".
Here's the old food pyramid:
This new food plate is a big improvement in many ways:
1) Visually. It's less confusing and gives the viewer a much better idea of how much of each kind of food to eat. The pyramid was a bit confusing on this front.
2) Accuracy. The food pyramid overrated certain foods over the actual health recommendations, mostly because of pressure from various industries.
3) Putting dairy in its place. One of the major problems with the food pyramid is it implied that not only is dairy a necessary part of a healthy diet, but that it was just as important as the protein category (and separate from it). This was heavily criticized, not just by vegans but by lactose intolerant people and equality-advocacy groups that pointed out, rightly, that the assumption of lactose tolerance is casually white dominated, since European-descended people tend to digest lactose on average better than everyone else. I eat dairy because I like it, but it's not an essential part of the diet by any means. The nutrients you get from it are available elsewhere and are often better absorbed from other sources. By putting dairy off to the side, the plate visually represents how we should approach it.
4) Vegetarian and vegan-friendly. The pyramid implied you need meat to live. This new food plate is more clear that you just need protein, which comes from a variety of sources.
5) The elimination of "fat and sugar". Even though the pyramid said to "use sparingly", the inclusion of fats and sugars was a cave to the junk food industry. It's not that you shouldn't have any fat or sugar, but there's more than enough of both in a regular diet that relies mainly on plants, whole grains, and lean proteins. Instead of seeing fats and sugars as part of the diet,they should be relegated to treats.
The website that the USDA put together for this is also a big shift in the right direction. In the past, attempts to tell people to "eat less" were killed off by industry lobbyists. But right on the front page you have "Enjoy your food, but eat less."
Now, I realize a lot of people are going to roll their eyes at this and wonder who gives a fuck. And that's a good question; most people don't even come close to following the USDA dietary guidelines. Even the old, inferior guidelines were leaps and bounds beyond how the majority of Americans eat. This is just a brutal fact; most people eat way more meat than they need to, way more sweets than they should, not even close to enough vegetables, and they guzzle sugary drinks. But that doesn't mean the USDA diet recommendations are useless. For one thing, they can be used to exert pressure for healthier school lunches. They also have cultural impacts. For instance, as any vegetarian can tell you, a lot of people really do think you need meat to live, and part of the reason is that it's in the food pyramid and treated like its own food group. (Yes, beans are in it, but have always been shoved to the back at the request of the meat industry.) Same story with dairy; Americans eat way more dairy than is really healthy, but we don't realize that because our very own government has been telling us for decades that it's normal and expected to eat a lot of dairy products. In reality, if more people simply cut their dairy consumption in half, they'd probably start feeling better pretty quickly. Most adult humans are lactose intolerant to certain degrees, and plus, you know, that stuff clogs you up. I eat dairy, like I said, but I try to relegate it to a dressing or a treat, and not a substantive part of my diet.
So, kudos to the USDA and Michelle Obama for finally getting this done. It's been a long time coming. This does shore up my suspicion that health care reform is going to inspire government agencies that touch on health-related issues, such as diet, to do a better job at promoting prevention.