March 12 2014
Eat Right and Save the Planet
Every five years, a committee of officials chosen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reviews the federal dietary guidelines. This committee, called the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, is mandated by Congress to work on “providing nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public . . . based on the preponderance of scientific and medical knowledge currently available.”
In other words, these are the government-fat-camp counselors, and they’re here to tell you what to eat.
These DGAC folks don’t have such a good track record. After the 2010 meeting, the DGAC unveiled the new Choose My Plate icon, which emphasized the importance of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. That replaced the “Oops, we were wrong” Food Pyramid that had encouraged Americans since 1992 to go heavy on the carbs. The new plate was met with much optimism. Celebrity chef Padma Lakshmi gushed that the new plate was a “triumph for the first lady and the rest of us.” Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University said, “The new design is a big improvement.” Others suggested the plate would finally knock some sense into us piggy Americans and make us eat better and lose weight.
Of course, reasonable people realize this is ludicrous because what normal person says, “You know, I really need to eat better. I think I’ll go check out the USDA website for diet info.”?
Only Washington bureaucrats could be oblivious enough to miss the utter uselessness of the DGAC. Only they could be unaware that the United States has a thriving, $60 billion diet and exercise industry (not to mention a whole host of independent bloggers) that already provides people with a variety of choices and advice on how to get fit and eat nutritiously. The DGAC members must avoid grocery stores altogether because if they did ever stand in the checkout lane, they’d be bombarded with magazine headlines promising guidance on dieting (along with pictures of bikini-clad hard bodies).
So the DGAC is at it again this year, reviewing the 2010 dietary guidelines. You can even watch the proceedings online . . . although I don’t recommend it. I watched the second hearing (so that you don’t have to) and after the first speaker, I considered bailing for the much more entertaining activity of organizing my son’s sock-and-underwear drawer.
But then something happened. Something relatively interesting.
Kate Clancy, billed as a “food systems consultant” (yeah, so am I!) came to the podium and explained that the DGAC must integrate environmental concerns into the guidelines. As her speech went on, I heard phrases like “environmentally friendly food choices” and making “low impact food choices” and looking at things with an “ecological perspective.” Her point was clear: Americans must not only make nutritious food decisions, they must make environmentally responsible food decisions even if that means Americans’ food costs increase. And food prices most definitely will go up if her recommendations are included in the final guidelines.
According to Clancy, environmentally responsible food decisions include switching to a “plant-based diet” – which is food-systems-consultant talk for “vegetarian,” but she fails to mention that when it comes to total calories, it takes much more plant-based food to equal what lean meats can offer. Are Clancy and the DGAC suggesting people with scarce financial resources spend all of their money on a high-priced plant-based diet? After all, kids need things besides food. School supplies, clothing, and a place to live seem vital elements of a child’s life.
While Clancy doesn’t say we have to swear off meat altogether, she envisions a population that procures protein from local sources, only buying line-caught fish, grass-fed beef, and organic milk. Again, she makes no mention of the added costs associated with this Whole Foods-style food shopping. Which should make us all wonder, do these folks understand that the highest rates of obesity are suffered by those who live under the poverty line? This administration, which portrays itself as looking out for the poor, might want to reconsider making recommendations that will needlessly hike the prices of healthy food for that very demographic.
Clancy also skips over how this type of diet would work in practice. In addition to ignoring costs, she doesn’t discuss how it might be difficult to get a child to eat the appropriate number of calories if they’re subsisting on a vegetarian diet – something most mothers struggle with daily. She doesn’t get into the nitty gritty of how lean proteins and diary are considered an important part of a child’s diet.
Those things are secondary to the real goal: saving the planet from that plague of hungry humans. Watch out for the next DGAC guidelines; they may not just be useless.
— Julie Gunlock, a Sr. Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, is the author of the new book From Cupcakes to Chemicals: How the Culture of Alarmism Makes Us Afraid of Everything and How to Fight Back.