On top of my pyramid

For the past two weeks, I’ve been on what my chiropractor calls a “detox diet.” This diet is supposed to purge my liver and colon of all the toxins I ingested during my three-week Easter egg diet. My meals now consist of foods that both are good for me and activate my gag reflex, like non-fat, plain yogurt (a food that should only be eaten with some sort of sugar). And, while my skin is now glowing, I have more energy, and my jeans fit better, I can safely say that I’m longing for a cheese-filled enchilada at nearly every waking moment.

My little dieting experience illustrates why Americans may never stop getting fatter. When you’ve bitten from the tree of sugar, fat, and white flour, there really is no going back to the tree of figs and sprouts. Which is why I laughed when I read that the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled another useless food pyramid this month to promote the slimming-down of America.

You can check the new pyramid out at www.mypyramid.gov, but don’t expect it to look anything like the old pyramid. This pyramid looks like a cross between a rainbow bumper sticker and a pie chart. It doesn’t show quantities of different food groups or recommend specific servings any more. It just shows lateral stripes of color, and the game is to guess which color corresponds to each food group.

After looking at it a while, I realized that the USDA must have drawn its inspiration for this meaningless triangle from the Department of Homeland Security’s color-coded terrorist warning system. Any government that believes its citizenry is stupid enough to depend on colors to warn them of a terrorist attack must also believe that random colors will work for food too.

Unless you ate paint chips as a child, you should instinctively know that fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are good for you, and Big Macs and soft drinks are bad. What seems to change on a daily basis is the status of milk, beef, chocolate, coffee, eggs, alcohol, and butter. One year they are healthy, the next year they’ll kill you. People are confused by these foods. They aren’t confused by whole wheat.

This is where an objective government entity could actually help us out. We need a food pyramid based on the bad foods, not the good foods. Tell me how much ice cream I can eat in a week and not gain weight. Now that would be useful information.

They could even publish a pyramid with a skull on it to symbolize everything you should never touch, like trans fatty acids and genetically modified corn. But no, instead, we’re left wondering whether the “latest study” that proves cooked tomatoes are good for prostate problems is just a ploy by the ketchup industry to get older men to buy more ketchup.

What is most troubling about this pyramid is that the USDA has clearly written off their primary food-pyramid constituents: cereal-box readers. I’ve spent many a breakfast examining the old food pyramid on a box of Cheerios. But now, since they aren’t giving broad recommendations any more, people have to log on, plug in your sex, age, and physical activity, and wait for mypyramid.gov to spit out how many ounces of grain you need to eat in one day.

I don’t know about you, but I rarely measure my food in ounces before I eat. It would be easy to prescribe portions based on the size of our fists, but of course, the USDA wants us to get out our measuring cups at every meal. Until Americans decide to get off their couches, walk to their refrigerators, and crave carrot sticks, we won’t be seeing much change in our flabby society. We might as well recognize our limitations and try to mitigate the damage. That’s what I’ll be doing. Give me life, liberty, and the pursuit of cheese enchiladas and I’ll be on top of my pyramid.

Janelle Holden lives and eats in Livingston, Mont.

From janelle holden, May 2005.