Tag Archives: fresh food

Goodbye Food Pyramid!

This past week, the USDA announced that it would be retiring its longstanding symbol of healthy eating, the Food Pyramid, in favor of a new, more family pleasing graphic, MyPlate.

In addition to the obvious shape and structure changes, the new MyPlate emphasizes fruits and veggies over the former Pyramid’s favoring of grains. The identifiable breakdown of a balanced meal relegates protein to side dish status and pushes the dairy component off the plate entirely. While exact serving size and categorization of food items is not immediately available on the new graphic, additional information is available on the USDA MyPlate site.

Proponents of the Plate criticize the Food Pyramid as incomprehensible to the average consumer. Translating the densely packed pyramid required a food preparer to pay strong attention to serving size, as well as keeping track of servings within servings of dishes. Translating the basic dietary guidelines to serve the average family allows everyone to understand the language of healthy eating.

Indeed, the plate is simple to understand, perhaps too simple, say some critics. How can the plate support healthy eating when little information beyond colorful blocks of generalized food groups are identified on the image? Criticism of the plate includes the complaint that the plate image gives no better understanding of what is considered healthy within each food group. Nutritious eating is far more complicated than its general categories may indicate, they argue, and the plate only misleads consumers. (Fruit juice, for example, contains natural sugars that metabolize in the body at rate similar to soda pop. Yet fruit juice can be considered a part of the “fruits” food group.)

Both sides make fair points. While daily nutrition is a far more complex issue than reflected on MyPlate, the new image is a step in the right direction for the USDA. They’re not claiming that this is the be-all, end-all of healthy eating directives. They simply wanted an image that would resonate in the kitchens of average consumers. While the Food Pyramid is something learned as a child and quickly disregarded, the Plate is a fairly easy ideal to put in place for every meal.

Still, I find myself agreeing mostly with USDA critics who dismiss the image of healthy eating as a minor issue in the fight for healthy eating. Even with a revitalized healthy eating campaign, the fact remains that for many, many Americans, a nutritious diet is not a matter of knowledge, but a matter of economic status.

A great quote from Hank Cardello (and quoted in an opinion piece about the Plate in the LA Times) calls for a solution to one of the biggest obstacles in bringing fresh, healthy foods to populations who need them:

Perhaps there is another way to address the food desert dilemma. Instead of prompting grocers to enter unprofitable markets, why don’t we bring the inner city residents to the grocery stores? After all, there are over 30,000 supermarkets located in nearby suburban and non-rural areas. It’s just a question of finding an easy way to transport the shoppers.

Cardello’s point is apt: What good is an image defining a healthy manner of eating when the products themselves are not available to consumers? And encouraging grocery stores to open locations in markets that are financially unstable is a fool’s errand. But is the answer as simple as busing people out of the inner city to suburban markets? Would their income level jibe with the average prices in a suburban supermarket?

What do you think about the new MyPlate? Is the new image a tremendous step forward for healthy eating or is it missing the larger issues entirely?

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Check Me Out On the Dormont-Brookline Patch

I recently became a contributing writer for the Dormont-Brookline Patch, an online newsletter for the Dormont and Brookline neighborhoods. Started in early January, the site is steadily building a readership locally and in the surrounding Pittsburgh area, and I’m happy to be a part of the growth of this project.

My first article for the site has been posted. It’s a news feature on the struggling Dormont Fresh Market. If you live in or around the South Hills, or are just passing through via the Red Line T, do yourself and Cher Murphy a favor and stop by the market. She’s really built a store from a personal philosophy and is trying to bring fresh, affordable goods within reach of the entire community. The fact that she is struggling to sustain when so many people could benefit from her services is damn criminal, and an example of how communities fail their small businesses.

Click on the excerpt to visit the article!

Expecting a drop in business with the low foot traffic on Potomac Avenue, Murphy expected to make up the difference with grocery deliveries. The service, announced in October, is provided to Dormont, Brookline, and Beechview residents and is free for senior citizens. But aside from some loyal patrons, the service has yet to take off.

Now, disappointing in-store business is echoed by a delivery service that hasn’t yet justified the extra inventory it requires. Murphy predicts that if business doesn’t pick up soon, she will have no more than six weeks left.

Good Morning, Community Supported Agriculture!

Thanks to testimonies from friends and from several local blogs (but especially Yum Yum), I have decided to quit sitting the fence and subscribe to a CSA.

From gfgastronaut.wordpress.com

Community supported agriculture, or CSA, has its roots in early 1960s Switzerland, Germany and Japan, when local consumers became concerned about the potential fiscal and health related problems that imported agriculture posed to their communities. For a set number of weeks, consumers purchase a subscription to a local farm entitling them to a weekly share of the crops. There is inherent shared risk and reward in the system, meaning that consumers get whatever the farm grows seasonally (and their share reflects the season’s yield). While contemporary versions of the system have expanded to include specific item ala carte ordering, mostly it works the same way: you subscribe and receive a share, usually vegetables and fruit, sometimes dairy and meat and occasionally even sundry items (apple butter, preserves, cider).

The main drawback of the system is the risk the consumer takes – a thin harvest means little to distribute as shares – but the benefits of the system are immense. Firstly, community supported agriculture does exactly that: supports agriculture in the community. By buying shares of the harvest, consumers are allowing farms to continue to exist, to thrive, to grow. Local farms can continue to feed and educate their communities. Everybody benefits.

From postgazette.com

In addition, CSA subscribers are given an increased intimacy with the food they eat. Knowing not only where the food has come from but how it was grown and when can lead to a powerful bond between grower, buyer, and the food between them. As a CSA participant, you are getting from a local source, which cuts down on the amount of travel, therefore, short of growing it yourself, you’re getting some of the freshest possible produce.

Western Pennsylvania boasts many local farms, which means a lot of choices when it comes to CSAs. That’s where I need some help. Anyone who has a subscription, which program/farm do you subscribe to? One of my friends, Kait, had a summer box with Isidore Foods, a company that pulls from several farms in Lawrence, Butler, and other counties to offer year-round CSA subscriptions. Because they have drop-off points right down the road from me in Mt. Lebanon, it makes sense to go with Isidore, but what are some other good options?

For reference:

From the Fork and the Road

Slow Food Pittsburgh has a good, concise guide to choosing a CSA.
– A good discussion thread on Chowhound regarding local CSA options.
– Nice overview on CSAs at Local Harvest.
– Comprehensive list of local farms from Grow Pittsburgh
– Isidore sponsored Eat Local Pittsburgh