Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Kissing Cousin Food Icons: The New U.S. 'MyPlate' is the Spitting Image of the UK's 'Eatwell Plate'
Last week on June 2 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, who prior to heading up the federal agency was Governor of Iowa, and First lady Michelle Obama unveiled the federal government's new MyPlate food icon, which replaced the USDA's long-in-use food pyramid graphic.
Announcing the new MyPlate graphic on June 2 Secretary Vilsack said: "MyPlate is a new generation icon with the intent to prompt consumers to think about building a healthy plate at meal times and to seek more information to help them do that by going to the MyPlate website. The new MyPlate icon emphasizes the fruit, vegetable, grains, protein and dairy food groups."
The First Lady, who's been a leading spokesperson for better nutrition with her Let's Move campaign, offered a few words of her own on the new food and nutritional icon, saying: "This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we’re eating and as a mom, I can already tell how much this is going to help parents across the country," she said at the June 2 launch of MyPlate.
"When mom or dad comes home from a long day of work, we’re already asked to be a chef, a referee, a cleaning crew. So it’s tough to be a nutritionist, too. But we do have time to take a look at our kids’ plates. As long as they’re half full of fruits and vegetables, and paired with lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, we’re golden. That’s how easy it is."
According to Vilsack, the need for a new and more simple icon was originally identified in President Obama's Child Obesity Task Force report which noted that simple, actionable advice for consumers is needed when it comes to food and nutrition advice.
MyPlate will replace the MyPyramid image as the government’s primary food group symbol as an easy-to-understand visual cue to help consumers adopt healthy eating habits consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, he said.
The MyPyramid graphic isn't going away completely. Vilsack said it will remain available to interested health professionals and nutrition educators in a special section of the new website noted above.
"With so many food options available to consumers, it is often difficult to determine the best foods to put on our plates when building a healthy meal," Vilsack said in the June 2 press conference.
"MyPlate is an uncomplicated symbol to help remind people to think about their food choices in order to lead healthier lifestyles. This effort is about more than just giving information, it is a matter of making people understand there are options and practical ways to apply them to their daily lives."
The new MyPlate icon, which every publication under the sun (and in cyberspace) is writing about since the June 2 press conference with the Secretary and First Lady Michelle Obama, cost about $2 million to research and develop, according to the USDA. (You can read the press release that formed the basis for all those stories here.)
We find the $2 million research and development cost - as well as the new MyPlate icon in general - extremely interesting. But not perhaps for the particular reason you might think.
Kissing cousins: MyPlate and Eatwell Plate
Our reason: Because the U.S. Government's new MyPlate food and nutritional graphic is essentially a carbon copy of what the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency has been using for years - which is its its Eatwell Plate.
MyPlate is essentially a near-identical version of the Eatwell Plate, which has been around for a few years. For example, we mentioned it and posted the graphic in this story last year - April 1, 2010: Tesco's Fresh & Easy to Launch New 'EatWell' Brand Lower-Sodium, Fewer-Calorie Prepared Foods Line
For example, MyPlate has a meal plate as its center focus, and even includes a fork, just like the UK's Eatwell Plate does.
Cutlery confusion: For some reason the USDA left out a knife, which is odd because one is needed to cut most of the protein (meat, poultry, pork) that comprises a significant portion of the MyPlate graphic.
Perhaps the USDA's not including a knife is a subtle way of suggesting we all eat less meat: If you can't use a fork only, for example, don't eat it. In contrast, the meat loving Brits feature a knife, along with a fork (but no spoon) in their Eatwell Plate graphic.
Or perhaps the USDA omitted the knife so its new icon would look slightly different from the one our British cousins have been using for a number of years?
MyPlate also "goes naked," not including any actual food on the plate like the British version does, assuming we suppose Americans know what fruits, grains, vegetables, protein and dairy foods look like.
And significantly, MyPlate puts "dairy" off to the side of the plate rather than including it center-of-plate like the UK's Eatwell Plate does.
The word is doing so was a compromise at the USDA. Apparently a couple members of the panel that chose the new food-plate icon wanted dairy left off completely. So as a compromise it was agreed the final version would put dairy off to the side, something that isn't going to sit well with dairy farmers in Secretary Vilsak's home state of Iowa and elsewhere throughout the U.S.
A scoop: We haven't seen any publications - until now - point out the similarity between the new My Plate icon and the UK's Eatwell Plate, which was first by a long shot.
In our judgement, that's actually the most interesting news angle in the MyPlate story, along with the fact the USDA spent $2 billion to develop what essentially is a slightly modified graphic version of what already exists in the UK. We aren't against the change to a new icon - just a bit baffled about the "newness" aspect and cost of MyPlate in that regard.
In fact, had we known what the new U.S. Government's food and nutritional icon was going to look like, we would have offered to put the UK's Eatwell Plate icon into a computer graphics program and turn it into whatever slightly-modified version (which is what MyPlate is) the agency liked, for a fee of $100,000 or so, which would have saved the American taxpayer a healthy chunk of change.
Of course, we would have stipulated in our offer to the federal government that our $100,000 fee, which would probably be for about a couple days work to create multiple versions of MyPlate using the Eatwell Plate as template that it is, would be based on one condition, which is that the$1.9 million saved out of the $2 million spent to "develop" MyPlate be used to pay down the federal budget deficit.
In any event, it looks like another element - kissing-cousin food icons - can now be added to the long-standing U.S.-UK "special relationship."
And remember, if you start seeing stories comparing the two food icons to one another - you read it here first.