The Food Pyramid: Industry Conspiracy?

I'd like to offer one more perspective on the Broken Food Pyramid, one I'm guessing won't be a popular one: I don't share the seemingly widely-held view that the reason we have a carb-heavy Food Pyramid is because "industry" influenced it.

Don't get me wrong: industry did have influence on the Food Pyramid. Most government guidelines, recommendations and even regulatory actions are made in collaboration with many organizations, including industry. What I'm disputing here is the conspiracy view that the Food Pyramid was made deliberately carb- and grain-heavy in order to enrich the food industry. Note the difference.

Remember, this is the same government that issued the Eisenhower dollar, invaded Iraq (twice) and can't seem to regulate its own banking system. Could our government really engineer a multi-decade, grain complex-enriching conspiracy by issuing false dietary guidelines meant to fool us into eating more carbs?

It would be a lot easier--and far more profitable for everyone involved--to simply export our extra grain (as the grain industry did, interestingly, throughout the 80s, 90s and 00s), rather than create some complex dietary scheme to make sure American citizens ate everything up here at home.

Further, while some industries might have benefited from the Food Pyramid, other politically powerful industries got severely shortchanged. The beef/meat industry is quite powerful, as is the dairy industry, and both punch well above their weight in political influence. So why does the Food Pyramid give them a mere 2-3 servings each when the grain group got 6-11? The sugar industry is powerful too: So why does sugar get a desultory "use sparingly" recommendation?

Each of these industries on their own should have been powerful enough to sway things, and certainly the collective political power of all of them was orders of magnitude greater than the grain industry’s power by itself. So how did Big Grain get so lucky and win the lottery here? It just doesn't add up.

Careful students of logic should note the leap involved between the appearance of someone benefiting and the default presumption of a conspiracy. If this were all a conspiracy to satisfy industry greed, the Food Pyramid would have come out looking quite a bit different: it would contain a lot more meat, more fat, more dairy--and far fewer breads, grains and pasta. Ironically, it would be far healthier!

It's not a conspiracy nor industry greed that drove the Broken Food Pyramid. Rather, there's a far simpler and more rational explanation: our government, based on a once-faulty and now-changing scientific consensus, arrived at a misdirected set of dietary guidelines. Guidelines it's only lately coming to correct.

So let's keep correcting them.

Read Next: But What If Your Farmer Doesn't Want To Know YOU?

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Anonymous said...

Certainly don't believe it was a conspiracy either. The problem is more likely that once a guideline was in place, bureaucrats were probably reluctant to review and change it. Some probably figured it was a 'one and done' deal, now that we spend a lot of money, the problem is solved, let's move on to the next one. Others probably felt like making any changes would look weak and wishy-washy and give the appearance that the experts DON'T know everything. Reality is that as new information becomes available, periodic review is often warranted. We do this instinctively in business and technology fields, why did we have a blind spot in dietary health?An interesting question, that.

chacha1 said...

I would add:
everything government does costs money. Various agencies have to find room in their budgets for everything the citizenry and the Congress ask for. If you've ever looked at the President's Budget Request, the scope of what government tries to pay for every year is literally staggering.

Allocating funds to pay scientists to review and amend something with few *apparent* national-security implications has to have been pretty low on the list.

Conspiracy theories: first refuge of those who just want to stop thinking about things.

Marcia said...

I'm not sure that all of the other industries didn't benefit also.

Maybe conspiracy is a strong word. But certainly, industries need to lobby to save their bacon, so to speak.

If you look at what the original, not-released food pyramid from the 80s recommended, it was kind of boring:

2-3 grains per day, whole grains only, cut back on sugar
5-8 ounces of meat
1-2 servings of dairy
(and a few other things that aren't coming to me)

The changes that were made before it was released:
6-11 servings of grain, no mention of whole grain, "watch your sugar intake"
2-4 servings of dairy

It certainly wasn't a conspiracy to make us fat but it WAS the result of lobbying from each group - nobody wants to be in the position to have the government say "eat less" of your food.

That's one of the reasons the pyramid was changed so much. Prior to it, we had "basic four", which really didn't talk AMOUNTS. So now we say "no white bread, only 2 servings of cereals per day" and "only 1-2 servings of dairy" and "less red meat" and "cut back on sugar". Those lobbies are WAY stronger than say, fruit and vegetable farmers.

The dietitian / nutritionist recommended pyramid and the government released pyramid varied a LOT in meat, dairy, grain, sugar recommendations. CLEARLY there was lobbying involved so that certain industries wouldn't "suffer".

That doesn't mean, of course, that we know everything. We don't. Eggs are bad. Cholesterol is bad. Saturated fat is bad. Wait, eggs are good. Fat is bad. No wait, carbs are bad. Eat vegan. Eat paleo. (Death by Food Pyramid really touched home with me on the fact that there are so many varied ways of eating and they all think they are #1.) It's constantly changing.

Still doesn't change the fact that 6-11 servings of grain was based on no science, and only lobbying. Maybe that amount worked when we were all farming, but I, frankly, sit behind a computer 8 hours a day.