But seven food groups -- plus "any other foods you want to eat" -- was a few too many.
(I have to admit, though, that the seventh food group, "Butter & Fortified Margarine," is pure, unadulterated awesomeness. Similarly fantastic: Four servings of ice cream per day are A-OK.)
The "Basic 7" just wasn't basic enough. Example: The "Green & Yellow Vegetables" group didn't include "raw cabbage" and "salad greens" -- both of which belonged to the "Oranges, Tomatoes & Grapefruit" group. Obviously.
To simplify matters, in 1956, the Department of Agriculture whittled the chart down to four foundational food groups: Milk, Meat, Fruits/Vegetables, and Grains.
This "Basic 4" lasted for less than two decades, until Senator George McGovern's "Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs" came along in the late 1960s. Blindly following the low-fat dogma of Ancel Keys and his disciples, the Committee eventually came up with this unholy beast:
This version of the pyramid (above) was rolled out in 1984 -- along with an explicit reminder to limit dietary fat intake to 30 percent of total calories. By 1992, the pyramid had gotten even more granular (ha! pun!), instructing us to eat SIX TO ELEVEN SERVINGS OF GRAINS EACH DAY.
The fact that the "Bread, Cereal, Rice & Pasta" group was by far the biggest one of all was not a problem for us. After all, grains are LOW-FAT, HEART-HEALTHY CARBOHYDRATES -- and they're so freakin' yummy!
But oddly enough, despite shifting our collective eating (and food production) patterns to match the pyramid, Americans kept getting fatter 'n fatter. Something was wrong. But it couldn't possibly be the guidelines themselves, right? Instead, it must be the fact that the people in this country are sedentary losers.
So in 2005, Uncle Sam rolled out yet another new pyramid:
This new pyramid told us what we all needed to know: THROW ALL YOUR FOOD ON THE FLOOR AND GO CLIMB SOME STAIRS, YOU FATTIES!
Hmm. That didn't seem to work, either. So now, what?
Never fear: The U.S. government is here. Today, the USDA is replacing the old "misleading" and "hard to understand" food pyramid with this:
According to the "experts," we were just too damned stupid to understand the pyramid. Circles, of course, are much easier for our teeny-tiny brains to process. No sharp corners, see? This is revolutionary stuff, insofar as we've gone full circle back to...well, a circle.
But this time, it's not confusing at all! Thanks to this image, I now totally understand that "Dairy" is not a source of "Protein," and that I should always drink a glass (or perhaps a ramekin?) of milk -- skim, of course -- with every meal. How could I have been such an idiot?
Come to think of it, I really should have bought these plates when they were released:
I'm sure anyone who purchased a set of this dinnerware has become lean and healthy. Now, if only the government would just subsidize the printing and distribution of actual "MyPlates" across this great land of ours, we'd conquer the obesity epidemic once and for all!
But for now, we'll just have to take the new USDA chart with us when we go grocery shopping. I'll never get sick and fat if I remember to stock up on frozen waffles, tofu, raisins, iceberg lettuce and chocolate milk!
Or maybe -- just maybe -- after a century of making pronouncements about what we should eat and then repeatedly changing its mind, THE GOVERNMENT STILL HAS NO CLUE ABOUT HEALTHY EATING.
So until something better comes along, I think I'll stick with something along these lines.
Just eat real food, y'all.
[UPDATE: Okay, okay, I heard you. I stuck the design on a tee. Buy 'em here. Thank you.]