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.