Pyramid Problem

Every once in a while, I get this chili burrito kind of feeling that something is not right or something is about to go wrong and I don’t know what it is. You know, that queasy feeling you get in the pit of your stomach? As Bill and Ted once said, “Strange things are amiss at the Circle K, dude?”
With the government’s Food Guide Pyramid, I thought we might lose a serving or two from the recommended daily amounts of grain-based foods, and it looks like we’re going to lose one. I sensed that exercise could make it into the pyramid. I even believed fruits and vegetables might edge their way to the bottom of the pyramid, where grain-based foods now rest.
Now, government officials are talking about getting rid of the pyramid altogether and replacing it with an image that supposedly will motivate people to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman just announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will seek written comments and hold a public meeting to provide an opportunity for public input into its comprehensive review and revision of the Food Guidance System. That meeting is scheduled for August 19.
I don’t know how you feel, but I think this idea just plain sucks. Now that may not be the most appropriate or politically correct thing to say, but why change the pyramid that the government, food industry and dieticians have been promoting for the last dozen years? It doesn’t make sense to change an image that some 80% of consumers recognize. Tweak it, maybe. Change it? No.
Although four out of five Americans recognize the pyramid, proponents of changing its shape counter that two-thirds of the nation are obese or severely overweight. The pyramid, they argue, is simply not effective in changing consumer behavior.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services officials are asking for comments and are entertaining new shapes and ideas. Of course, I have a few ideas of my own, but most of them are really stupid, highly insulting or just wrong.
So, in order to be polite, I asked Lee Sanders, vice president of regulatory and technical services for the American Bakers Association, to provide a proper perspective on the issue.
“ABA has supported the USDA/HHS Guidelines. Most bread bags that you see include the pyramid graphic and the nutrition message that it conveys,” she says. “The pyramid is an effective and proven graphic that consumers recognize, and it is based on the sound science of the Dietary Guidelines recommendations. Scientific information regarding grains has not changed. In fact, there is more positive data and nutrition information on the important health benefits of folic acid, and the list is growing. All that said, a new graphic is not necessarily a better graphic.”
So, OK folks, let’s get comments going. This issue is too big to sit on your hands and pray that it will go away. Send comments to Food Guide Pyramid Reassessment Team, USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, 3101 Park Center Drive, Room 1034, Alexandria, Va., 22302. No electronic written comments will be accepted or considered.
For more information, visit the department’s Web site at

And when writing those letters, don’t be a palooka like me. Be persuasive, stay factual, write intelligently and get to the point — even if the whole idea really does stink.
Editor’s Afterthoughts: This year is the 100th Anniversary of the hamburger. How come I don’t see anyone promoting that fact during the big barbecue season? Hey, there’s still time. Also, visit me at Baking Expo, which runs from August 15-18 in Las Vegas. Our booth is 3039. Sorry, my publisher nixed the idea of a dunking machine.