April 28, 2005
Minneapolis, Minn. — Only two days after the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its new food pyramid, a Minneapolis couple created a satirical Web site mocking the official one.
They bought the domain name MyPyramid.org and launched a site that looks almost exactly like the USDA site. It even adopts the same tone.
Independent Web designer Molly Nutting says she wanted to alert people to the political and financial interests behind food. The take-home message from the Web site is that the USDA is more concerned about increasing the profits of agribusiness than it is the health of Americans.
For example, the "Tips and Resources" page includes the following language:
Your food and physical activity choices each day affect the entire American agribusiness and pharmaceutical marketplace.
These tips and ideas are a starting point. You will find a wealth of suggestions here that can help us solidify reliance on mechanized, industrial farming and patented, Genetically Modified crops. Choose a change that you can make today, and move our profit margins even higher.
Tips to help you help the Agribusiness economy:
Make half your grains refined
Review nutrition labels, but base your selection of food products on the packaging pictures you find most attractive
High fructose corn syrup counts as one of your daily servings of grains
"Our aim with it is to try to represent USDA more truthfully than they are representing themselves," Nutting says. "Not being nutrition experts, we do know how to make Web sites. We hope that people find our site and think it's funny, and start thinking about what's really behind the guidelines that USDA does put out."
Nutting and her partner, Stephen Eisenmenger, say an independent agency should determine the country's nutrition guidelines, not one with ties to growers and trade organizations.
A spokeswoman for the USDA said the agency knows about the site but declined to comment.
According to Eisenmenger, their site has attracted a lot of traffic -- more than half a million hits in its first week. While many food blogs have reviewed the site, most of the people who've sent in comments don't seem to understand it's a satire.
That concerns Joanne Slavin, a nutrition professor at the University of Minnesota. She says the mock site looks so real that it may mislead people. Slavin likes the USDA's new food pyramid, and wants Americans to take it seriously.
"I think a lot of the messages have actually been improved," Slavin says. "That's the concern I have with the pyramid -- that people will make fun of it and ignore it. So I wish that people would actually go into the official site and get a little more into it, and potentially improve their diet."
Slavin likes the fact that the new pyramid emphasizes exercise and doesn't seem to rank foods the way the old pyramid did. She also likes the focus on calories and portions. She says Americans need to learn moderation.
But nutritionists don't all agree on the path to good health and a slim figure.
Luise Light is a nutritionist and author who lives in Vermont. She used to work for the USDA and helped design the original food pyramid.
Light thinks good nutrition is more about what you eat than the calories. Light says the mock site points out what's missing from the government site. For instance, the government site doesn't warn consumers against refined sugars and starches. It doesn't distinguish between organic and conventionally grown produce.
But she says the site is aimed at people who already know a lot about nutrition.
"Some of the people I know in my town would be more perplexed and more confused," Light says. "They really want to know what to do. 'How do I get rid of my girth, and how do I feel healthier and have more energy?' That's what I hear all day long."
Light says she thinks we need another Web site to tell people how to eat. She recommends a site that would help people make smarter food choices. For example, it would tell people why to eat whole grains instead of refined ones.
Light also says any site making nutritional food recommendations should be independent of outside business influence.