AI: The Pyramid, Now On a Plate

Yesterday, the USDA unveiled their new chart for dietary guidelines. Like that of Pluto, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Columbus’s flat-earth adversaries, new research has completely revamped a basic tenet of my elementary school education.

According to Scientific American’s interview with nutritionist Marion Nestle, there were many problems with the stacked pyramid design of old (never mind the unintelligible MyPyramid introduced during the Bush presidency). The two main flaws were that it suggested that meats and junk foods were necessary, just in smaller portions, and the fact that grains were at the bottom, recommending a nebulous “six to 11 servings.” (“The serving sizes have grown to tremendous proportions, and no one knew what serving sizes were,” says Nestle. “One bagel is six servings, but no one knew that.”)

The new design not only simplifies the new dietary guidelines into a relevant form that people use every day — a plate — but it stands in opposition to what most Americans consider a square meal. Fruits and vegetables take up a full half of the plate, and protein, commonly thought to be the central focus of a meal, makes up the smallest portion.

This is a perfect example of how art and design can have a big role in furthering the impact of science.

What do you think of the new design? Is it clear enough? Is it memorable enough? Does it accomplish its goals? Are hipsters going to start wearing vintage food pyramid t-shirts out of irony?

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.

Ashley Hamer

Ashley Hamer (aka Smashley) is a saxophonist and writer living in Chicago, where she performs regularly with the funk band FuzZz and jazz ensemble Big Band Boom. She also does standup comedy, sort of, sometimes. Her tenor saxophone's name is Ladybird.

Related Articles


  1. Growing up with the food pyramid of the 90s, I always found it incomprehensible. People are still probably not going to follow the picture’s recommendations–you sure won’t see *me* drinking milk in any amount at any time–but at least I can finally understand what the hell it means.

  2. @Owl, You don’t need to fill that glass with milk. You can also have a nice tall glass of cheese.

    My initial reaction is that the plate is very full. I understand that it’s about ratios and the plate is not a defined size. But I find that if you have a large plate, there is a temptation to fill it. Now we have a map to show exactly how that should be done.

    It’s still an improvement, though.

  3. It’s a large improvement but still fundamentally misleading. Your goal is not to have a balanced diet every time you sit down for a meal but rather have a balanced diet overall. It does not matter if my dinner plate was half steak & half fries if I snack on fruit throughout the day. In fact I can go a day or two and not eat even one vegetable, if I replace a dinner or two later in the week with some sort of big healthy salad. The totality of your diet should be balanced but every meal need not.

    I also think this “my plate” misses the mark from a public health perspective. America is not fat because their protean section on their plate is too large (though is does not help), America is fat because they are eating too much.

Leave a Reply

Check Also
Back to top button