The Food Pyramid Is Wrong and We Need to Stop Teaching It in School

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By Andrew Pillow

How often have you seen the “food pyramid”? Probably your whole life. You’ve seen it in school. You’ve seen it at doctor’s offices. You’ve seen it on cereal boxes. The food pyramid has become almost ubiquitous in our daily lives.  

For as long as most of us can remember, the food pyramid has guided traditional wisdom about meal choices. If you are like me, you can remember the general idea by heart: You should eat mostly grains, followed by vegetables, fruit, meat, dairy, and fats, in that order.  

Would it surprise you to learn that the food pyramid was inaccurate? Because it is.

Here’s the truth: The food pyramid is a USDA marketing tool that completely ignores the advice given to them by their own nutritional experts in order to encourage people to eat more refined grains and meat… all of which, are coincidently subsidized by the USDA.

This isn’t some conspiracy theory or anything either. It is a well-documented fact. The USDA had nutritional experts craft a food pyramid. The original version that they came back with featured fruits and vegetables as the biggest and most important food groups. That version was overturned and edited into the final product that we are all familiar with today.

Luise Light, a former USDA insider, and creator of the original food pyramid explains:

"When our version of the Food Guide came back to us revised, we were shocked to find that it was vastly different from the one we had developed. As I later discovered, the wholesale changes made to the guide by the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture were calculated to win the acceptance of the food industry. For instance, the Ag Secretary’s office altered wording to emphasize processed foods over fresh and whole foods, to downplay lean meats and low-fat dairy choices because the meat and milk lobbies believed it’d hurt sales of full-fat products; it also hugely increased the servings of wheat and other grains to make the wheat growers happy...”

Grains, particularly refined ones, are not necessarily healthy. Especially not in the quantities that the food pyramid encourages you to eat them.

So, if the food pyramid is problematic and we know it, why do I still see it in lunchrooms all across the country? Why do they still put it in publications meant for children? And why do teachers continue to show and teach it to students in school?

The USDA has revised the food pyramid once before in 2005. They scrapped the pyramid all together in 2011 in favor of the MyPlate design. Both designs were improvements, but still problematic. Still, neither of these revisions have trickled down to the schools. Worse still, you can still find lesson plans based on the original flawed pyramid.

This is hardly surprising. Half the textbooks in my class have not fully accounted for the fall of the Soviet Union. However, it falls upon us as teachers to give students accurate information. Especially when it comes to their health.

I am challenging you to teach your kids the correct foods to eat in spite of years of inaccurate and misleading information. The appropriate information is out there. Don’t depend on the USDA or any other entity with an agenda to teach our students accurate information about their health.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Weekend Education Links (2/4/2018)

Comment

Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Take Your Child to the Library Day

 JB & JJ with their library cards.

JB & JJ with their library cards.

The first Saturday in February is Take Your Child to the Library Day (TYCLD).  TYCLD is an international initiative that began in Connecticut by two librarians Nadine Lipman and Caitlin Augusta and artist Nancy Elizabeth Wallace.  If you missed going to the library on the first Saturday of February, no worries.  According to the TYCLD website, “TYCLD is flexible and customizable - celebrations may take place on any date(s) in February that suit your library, your community, and your goals.”  These women created this initiative to encourage families to take their children to their local library and utilize their programming and services.

Below are some ways my family has utilized The Indianapolis Public Library.

My First Library Card

Did you know your child could have a library card before he or she turns one?  After my twins sons’ first birthday, we got them the My First Library Card.  This card is for children 0-6.  Your child can check out up to 25 books and there are no fines.  Around your child’s 6th birthday, he or she will receive a Happy Birthday card in the mail about obtaining a regular library card.

Bunny Book Bags

The Bunny Book Bags are bags of 20 books for children.  No two bags are alike.  There are also Baby Bunny Book Bags with board books for babies.  Parents can check these bags out on their library card.  I checked out two.  These bags came in handy when I didn’t want to go out into the world with twin toddlers.

Download and Stream for Kids

On the days you can’t get out to the library, you can stream and download books online using your library card.  Your library card number is your username for the services and the last four numbers of your library card is your pin.  If you don’t have a library card yet or have misplaced it, your children can still access the three resources below online for free.

Study Time

Although we live in Washington Township, we live closer to the Pike Library which is next to Pike High School. Whenever, I’m there with my boys, students are studying at tables or completing work on the computer.  The library is a great place for children to complete homework minus the distractions they may come across at home.

Events

Each branch of IMCPL has an event calendar.  The calendars include events for children, adults, and families. We have went to the library a few times to watch movies with other families and since our boys love animals, we have attended the Animalia events a few times.

This is just a snapshot of all the wonderful resources The Indianapolis Public Library has to offer.  Make a point to take your children to different libraries across the city. So far, my children and I have visited six: Pike, Nora, Eagle, Wayne, InfoZone and Central, but there are so many more across the city.  Go check them out!

 

Lunch Bunch: Hidden Figures

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Written By Sylvia Denice

When my students arrived in August and I started seeking extra opportunities for community-building, “Lunch Bunch” became our norm.  We shared films together in the classroom over lunch, watching 20-minute segments per day.  Before and after our viewings, we would discuss what we had watched or were preparing to watch.  We have enjoyed a variety of films, ranging from the powerful Bully documentary to the comical Diary of a Wimpy Kid to the vibrant Moana.

I noticed students beginning to feel a sense of belonging, ownership, and loyalty within their classroom community after several Lunch Bunch meetings.  Lunch Bunch became the highlight of each day, as students eagerly lined up with their trays to return to the classroom for a movie and discussion.  Students started bringing in film suggestions, enthusiastic about the shared movies and meals with their classmates.

We took a break from Lunch Bunch after I noticed students making great strides in cooperation and problem-solving as a class.  They were ready to bring learned lessons into the cafeteria with their fourth-grade peers from other classes.  Recently, I have been sporadically receiving questions from students asking about Lunch Bunch: “Hey!  Remember when we used to do Lunch Bunch?  Can we do that again?”  When a student came to me suggesting that we watch Hidden Figures, I was sold.  I couldn’t have thought of a better way to bring back Lunch Bunch and launch Black History Month than with Hidden Figures, the true story of the team of African-American female mathematicians behind NASA’s U.S. Space Program in the 1960s.

I enter each Lunch Bunch with an idea of what I hope my students will take away from the experience.  The beauty of Lunch Bunch, and teaching, in general, is that students bring ideas far more novel and profound than I could ever imagine.  Even so, I can’t help but predict and anticipate scenes or lines from each film I hope will catch their attention.  Here are three discussions I would love to facilitate during our Hidden Figures Lunch Bunch this February:

“I think we can say we are living the impossible.”

When Karl Zielinski, an aeronautical engineer character in the film, suggests to computer Mary Jackson that she pursue a career as an engineer, she initially turns away the idea.  She notes this would not be a prospect for her as an African-American woman.  Karl shares his background as “a Polish Jew whose parents died in a Nazi prison camp” who is now preparing “a spaceship that’s going to carry an astronaut to the stars.”  “I think we can say we are living the impossible,” he adds.

Some of my students face adversity and prejudice incomprehensible to my adult mind; and yet, they come to school faithfully with a desire to learn.  Watching Mary Jackson’s character go to the courthouse to enroll in classes where African-Americans and women were unwelcome in order to earn her engineering degree and position I find incredibly inspirational.  As cliche as it may sound, I am truly foolish enough to believe that nothing is impossible for my students.  I hope they catch onto this idea and notion from the film.  My belief in them as my students is just one piece of the puzzle.  Their belief in themselves and their capacity to achieve brings their experiences to a whole new level.

“Separate and equal are two different things.”

I do not want my students to be fooled.  They are familiar with the stories of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Ruby Bridges.  They express dismay, shock, and disbelief when they learn about life under Jim Crow.  However, this statement from Dorothy Vaughan’s character in the film to her young sons is no less relevant today in 2018 than it was in 1961.  The United States is still segregated, and opportunities are not equal.  My hope is that my students are aware and equipped to demand more.  They deserve it.

“Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

This famous line from John F. Kennedy’s “Moon Speech” resonates strongly with me as I reflect on the growth I have seen from my students since they walked through my classroom door that fateful day in August.  I don’t know if you remember learning long division or embedding text evidence into your reading responses when you were in fourth grade; but, for many nine-year-olds, it is no walk in the park.  I tell them incessantly that my position as their teacher would be pointless if I gave them easy material.  “What would I be teaching?  What would you be learning?  That would make for a boring year for us all.”  Nonetheless, it takes time to build up the level of trust and comfort with students for them to acknowledge that it is OK to not know sometimes.  Discovery is good.  The struggle is real--and acceptable.

The story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson epitomizes this sentiment that the most challenging of feats are also the most worthwhile.  In addition to challenges that I present to students in reading, math, writing, science, and social studies, they face a slough of social and emotional challenges they learn to overcome in the school setting.  The most difficult of these are inevitably the most rewarding.  This sentiment is easy to hear and hard to accept.  I love that the story of NASA’s Hidden Figures exemplifies not just facing but overcoming trying challenges.

While I may speculate where our Lunch Bunch will lead us, Lunch Bunch has historically exceeded my expectations.  I come in with a “lesson plan,” and their fourth-grade minds come back with one ten times better.  We are looking forward to celebrating this Black History Month as a classroom community, and I can’t wait to find out what Hidden Figures has in store for us.


 

Indiana is One of Eight States Where Parents Pay Textbooks Fees. When Will This Change?

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My boys are in first grade this year.  For each of my sons, my husband and I paid $27 for education fees, $99 for textbooks and $36 for workbooks.  When you add those fees up for both our children, we paid $324 this school year.  That does not include the money we spent, a little over $100, for school supplies.

Students are entitled to a free public education, but is that education really free if you have to pay for textbook and materials?  It wasn’t until former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz suggested the state pick up textbook costs that I learned textbook fees are not the norm across the country.  I have only ever lived in Indiana, so I thought everyone had to pay this fee.  I know we pay taxes to help fund schools and I know students need materials to learn, so I didn’t think it was too much to ask for parents to pay for textbooks.  Once I learned the majority of U.S. parents do not pay textbook fees, I felt a bit jaded about it and want this bill eliminated from my family’s budget.

Rep. Scott Pelath authored House Bill 1169 to provide curriculum materials without charging parents.  There is a Change.org petition signed by over 6,000 people in support of this bill.  This petition points out, “Private school parents and homeschoolers in Indiana can write off school supplies and textbooks when they file their taxes, but not parents of children in Indiana's public schools.”  If students qualify for free and reduced lunch, their textbook fees are waived.

It is not clear if this bill will be voted on and make it out of committee during this legislative session, but this is an issue lawmakers need to seriously consider especially as many schools are moving to online curriculum and resources and some schools don’t even use all of the materials parents purchased.  Last week, my son was about to toss a school-issued book inside our recycling bin.  I immediately told him to stop and he said, “Mommy, my teacher said we don’t need this anymore.  It’s paper so I thought I should recycle it.”  Upon a closer examination, I saw that my son had completed only 54 out of 223 pages in this reading workbook, a little less than 25%.  Not that I want my children completing worksheets from a workbook all day, but why have parents pay for resources that are barely used?  I hope before my sons graduate from high school that legislation will be passed that eliminates textbook fees for Indiana families.