Saturday, June 28, 2014

What's wrong with the USDA Myplate?

Answer:  The federal government's ChooseMyPlate campaign compartmentalizes food choices in a way that is no longer realistically attainable or reflective of prevailing American culture.
People really did eat like this a hundred years ago when 39% of American people worked on farms (virtually all of them family farms) and this kind of food assemblage was readily available to them, with most of it being in fresh, palatable forms.  That number of workers has since fallen to 2% and the farms that they do manage are mostly factory farms and monoculture installations where you wouldn't find much taste in the end product even if you were to harvest a bit of it for immediate personal consumption.  

Screengrabbed from this USDA site.  
OMG, that looks like PRISON FOOD!!  This is an example of what I mean by "no longer realistically attainable".  Yes, you can "attain" a situation in which you've procured all of the elements of the USDA plate.  However, each and every one of them shown in this picture is highly processed - the bread looks mass-produced, the fruit looks canned, the meat looks pressed, and the green beans have been cooked half out of existence.  You can tell just by looking at the photo that none of those components have much taste.

Screengrabbed from a "post my plate" contest announced by Oregon State University.  
One glance at that pic above and it's easy to understand why so many folks choose junk food over USDA's suggested "plate".  It's simply not realistic to expect people to eat the likes of that for as long as there are other more satisfying (if profoundly less healthy) choices available.

Fortunately there is a workaround.  All you need to do is "think outside the wedge" and capitalize on the best information that is available to us here in the 21st century.
Sambar combines the nutritional intent of three plate wedges into a single dish.  Recipe here.    
Where that sambar is concerned, some folks may wonder why I'd choose to post such an exotic and somewhat challenging recipe instead of something more "American".  The answer is, because Americans have historically done a crappy job of leveraging the value of vegetables and legumes in their style of cuisine.  Most Americans envision vegetables as being something boiled or steamed and simply topped with a bit of butter and salt.  That worked, taste-wise, a hundred years ago when vegetables were maximally fresh and non-factory-farmed.  But because of the situation in which we now find ourselves, that approach is no longer workable, and therefore we need to develop a better strategy.  Asians have historically been virtuosos where the preparation of vegetables is concerned - it's a far more prominent part of their culture than ours.  They have already invented that particular wheel, and therefore it simply makes efficient sense to adapt some of their techniques in our own lives, to compensate for what we have lost through mechanized food production.
Garden porn, the stuff of the sambar pictured above.  I refer to it as "the best food that money can't buy".

My husband and I had one of those classic "You didn't disclose this part of yourself before we were married" conversations the other day.  I didn't disclose to him the fact that I was going to devote a fair amount of mental energy and time to gardening and developing recipes that make use of what gets produced in our tiny back yard.  I didn't disclose that because I myself didn't realize that it was going to happen.  I started doing a little gardening as a hobby, and all of a sudden, the positive feedback loop initiated.  Now there are plenty of days when I simply don't feel like devoting a few minutes or an hour to the gardening tasks at hand.  But if I don't garden, we don't eat the same quality of food.  My husband is 6'1" and 170 lbs.  I (at the age of 50) am 5'6" and 130 lbs.  Our teenage daughter is 5'6" and 115 lbs.  If I stop gardening and cooking, some of that benefit is going to be forfeited, not to mention the loss of the enjoyment we derive from superior food taste.  Thus far, I haven't found the trade-off to be worth it, and so I keep digging in the dirt.  

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