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Why Michelle Obama means well, but new USDA guidelines won’t do (illustrated!)

June 2, 2011

Green Living

The USDA released its latest food guidelines last week, replacing its outdated (Industry-influenced) pyramid for a new look called MyPlate. Thanks to pressure from leaders like Michelle Obama, the new diagram guides people to fill half their plates with fruits and veggies, and even has a quarter section dedicated to grains. But the side Dairy section leaves no guidelines: Does it mean ice cream is ok to eat every day, and how much? Why include dairy in the picture when public health nutritionists and health educators all know calcium is better absorbed from foods like kale for much of the population, over milk? The answer comes down to food subsidies.

Image from Yoni Freedhoff

While Michelle Obama continues to teach kids in the White House Garden, our tax dollars are funding a mono-crop culture heavy in corn and soy. Imagine U.S. disease rates (including child obesity and the growing epidemic of Type II diabetes) if most vegetables weren’t pricier than your average soda or McDonald’s cheeseburger.

Michael Pollan has frequently touched on  the problems caused by government subsidies, and I just heard him speak on the politics of high fructose corn syrup (our cheapest sweetener) and sugar recently. If there’s any take home message from his books, it is deciding for ourselves what we eat, rather than to blindly reach for what food manufacturers are selling us in the middle aisles of supermarkets. Processed food is what the government is funding essentially. It’s up to you to get your vegetables and pursue good health in a backward system.

Best MP food quote: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”

A larger environmental problem. Most  processed foods contain genetically modified corn or soy today, as seen in the 2007 documentary King Corn. A large percentage of that feeds livestock, which fills the air with methane, contributing largely to global warming, as well as polluting huge masses of water with runoff. (Not reflected below)

We can work to change this (very sloooowly…zzzz) by voting for changes in the Farm Bill, a massive piece of legislature that comes out every four years that should really be called the Food Bill. I produced a video on this with Free Range Studios and we titled it Food Battle. I hope you enjoy watching the Spongecake-like dude running around scared and that you get involved the next time it comes up for legislation :  ) In the meantime, Green Foodies can unite and advocate for real, nutritious food by voting with your dollars, shopping from farmers and coops, and growing our own food. This article by Andy Bellatti, MS, sums up the subsidy issue perfectly in a great quote:

“Unless the government plans on matching crop subsidies to the recommendations laid out on My Plate (i.e.: subsidize fruits and vegetables, rather than wheat corn and soy to make nutritionally inferior byproducts), I don’t see how My Plate is supposed to help anyone develop better eating habits. I don’t believe Americans are lacking knowledge or awareness that fruits and vegetables are healthy; the problem is that fruits and vegetables compete with artificially priced junk food in the marketplace.  Lucky Charms and Trix are so cheap because they are made with crop subsidies; meat is cheap because it cows are fed government-subsidized crops, and so on and so forth.  Is My Plate suddenly going to make a pound of vegetables cost less, and a box of Lucky Charms cost more?  Will My Plate turn food deserts into areas where residents can have access to healthy foods?  No.”

Roger Doiron from Kitchen Gardeners compared Michelle Obama’s sustainably-grown model garden to a subsidy-funded conventional farm. (The data was provided from the Environmental Working Group.) Scroll down to see the nifty graphic below!

RD: “I thought it would be eye-opening – not to mention jaw-dropping – to see what the White House garden would look like if it were planted to reflect the relative importance of the crops that our taxdollars are actually supporting.  You’ll see that there’s very little resemblance between America’s Kitchen Garden and our “Subsidy Garden.”

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One Response to “Why Michelle Obama means well, but new USDA guidelines won’t do (illustrated!)”

  1. Jennifer montague Says:

    Love the subsidy garden! But I think “my plate” is a step in the right direction!

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