Michelle Obama’s “My Plate” Leaves Us Hungry

by Ophira Edut

Lights, camera, action! It’s…oh. It’s my middle school pamphlet on the five basic food groups, right? Wait, no, it’s my Weight Watchers tracker where I can enter what I just ate into an online widget. Cool! What? It’s not that? Oh, oh, now I see: it’s the First Lady’s big healthy eating initiative, ChooseMyPlate.gov, which was unveiled June 2nd. It’s shaped like a plate! With primary colors! And fruit and meat on the same dish! It’s the answer to that confusing food pyramid, they say. So why does this feel like more of a respin than a revolution?

Listen, I love the Obamas. I love Michelle O and her regal stature, her power arms and cool shift dresses that fuse 1940s housewife chic with corporate goddess toughness. I like that she’s made healthy lifestyles and exercise her pet cause, because this country needs it. We just happen to need it in a bigger, more attention-grabbing way than this underwhelming launch, if you ask me.

ChooseMyPlate.gov looks exactly like you’d expect something with the suffix “dot-gov” to appear. It’s super-basic, all-purpose (it even uses the term “general population”), and devoid of personality. The design is “meh” and some of the fonts render in a jagged way, like it was all dropped into one of those free web templates.

Buh-bye, Food Pyramid.

MyPlate is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s update to their 1992 Food Pyramid, which listed “Meat and Beans” rather than Proteins and “Milk” instead of Dairy. The updated plate graphic is a little easier to understand and apply. I imagine it being best suited to kids (perfect elementary school “health unit” fodder) or to people who have very little education on nutritious eating, cooking and self-care. Maybe it can also help those few souls living under rocks who still think a Big Mac is a complete meal because it has meat, grains, dairy and vegetablesĀ  (add a strawberry sundae for the fruit–bam!).

Here’s what I like about the site, and what I think could be improved. Nobody asked, but it’s America and this whole deal is being marketed as mildly patriotic (fight obesity! maintain our first-world nation status!)–so I’m gonna exercise a little free speech. Here goes.


What’s Good:

* Decent calculators & basic nutrition info.
The tools, though light, work. There’s a thorough encyclopedia of nutrition basics here that’s good to find all in one place. However, when I clicked on the Food Planner link in the Interactive Tools section, it took me to the MyPyramid Menu Planner, which is totally confusing. I thought we were done with the pyramid and using the plate now, guys. So why is this tool still here?

* Recipes are okay, too.
The recipe suggestions weren’t as generic as I thought they might be. Yes, there were all-American staples like pizza, lasagna and French toast. But kudos for listing a quinoa dish with slivered almonds and a spinach salad I might just make for lunch after I finish writing this. Knock off ten points for the recipes coming as a PDF, rather than as web text that can be pasted into an email, viewed on an iPad, or forwarded to that relative back home who eats Duncan Hines frosting straight from the tub (oh wait, that’s me).

Some personalization/customization.
You can enter your age, sex, weight, height and activity level to get a very basic plan for how much of each food group to eat to either a) maintain your current weight, or b) “gradually move toward a healthier weight” (props for using this body-friendly language). I was told to eat 7 ounces of grains, 3 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, 3 cups of dairy and 6 ounces of protein. I have to tell you, I have never in my life measured a grain, much less in ounces. Have you? What does an ounce of grain look like? Give it to me in slices, pasta handfuls, something I can eyeball, and I’ll be much more likely to do it. Honestly, Weight Watchers is light years ahead at recrafting the USDA guidelines into something real people can apply to our lives.

Room for Improvement:

* Um, social media, anyone?
Nary a Facebook or Twitter icon could be found on this site, except for a Tweet button that led me to a dead Twitter link. What if I wanted to share an article or tidbit? Send a shout-out? Follow them for new information? Nope.

* How about some video? Some real people and case studies?
Let’s get away from the government-issued vibe, shall we? This could be easily done by including a community element, letting people share their journeys and support each other. As much as we dislike The Biggest Loser, it still touches us because we identify with a real person sharing emotions and struggles. That’s why Weight Watchers or OA meetings work. Speaking of people, where’s Michelle Obama on this site? I’d like to see a warm welcome video on the front page with the first lady addressing me directly, firing me up about the whole mission of this. Michelle, save your modesty for your J. Crew wardrobe, por favor!

* Give the everyday person a call to action.
What can the average person do with all this scientific information about whole grains and whatnot? You can become a national strategic partner if you run an organization/company and want to help disseminate the new guidelines. Neato. But what about the average person who wants to get excited about implementing healthy eating in his/her life, and could use some encouragement? What about lonely folks who might band together if there was a community element here, even a Facebook page? This needs to be made into a glamorous cause, like Obama’s Let’s Move initiative. For goodness’ sake, if we can do that for illness (pink ribbon icons, commemorative stamps, national walks and celebrity endorsers), how hard can it be to do it for health? It’s so American: we make tragedy sexy and prevention frumpy. Hire a PR firm and get some slick PSAs, quick!

* I’d be overweight at 140 pounds? Nuh-uh.
I’m 5’2″ and packing some “baby weight” after giving birth last October. So when I entered my current weight of 165, I got a message telling me that I was over the healthy weight for my height range, which could put me at risk for certain diseases. Fair enough (and in further fairness, the site states that breastfeeding moms follow other guidelines). However, I wanted to see how low the USDA expected me to go. I kept getting this warning message until I hit 135, a weight that makes me look scary-skinny. I last saw 135 while I was eating mega-controlled portions of microwaved Jenny Craig, not exactly a sustainable lifestyle for me, nor one I want to pursue. Ever again.

I know, I know…it’sĀ  easy to be an armchair revolutionary and critic, and I’ve done that. But this is tough love, Madame Obama, because we want you to succeed. So, let’s grab some sprouted grain bread and trans-fat-free oils, and hop into 2011. In a world of WordPress plugins and widgets, a Tip of the Day box does not an interactive revolution make. Today’s tip advises me to keep frozen and canned-in-water fruit in stock. I just kept thinking, “Haven’t we all read this a million times in Good Housekeeping or Glamour or O magazine? Isn’t there a way to present basic information to the masses without dumbing it down and packaging it in behind-the-times design? So please, USDA and Mrs. Obama, give people a little more credit. Give us some meat–er, protein–to grab onto. Here’s hoping that version 2.0 feels more alive and interactive. I’m still hungry.

9 thoughts on “Michelle Obama’s “My Plate” Leaves Us Hungry

  1. @ Dan B — I have a friend who grew up on a farm and he refuses to drink milk (and he’s 82, has most of his teeth and is very healthy!). I have begged the org Army of Women ( http://www.armyofwomen.org/ ) to research the connection between US milk and US women getting breast cancer, to no avail…

    : (

  2. Why is everything this government designs A CIRCLE, just like the Obama logo (and the first name of Obama’s last name, and a ZERO to the Obama campaign’s chagrin)?

    we recall the shovel ready signs that cost millions and went up along highways and streets. and many of the administration’s department new logos.

    I think your critique is spot-on (ha — the cheapo website comparison!) but I’m really disturbed by the NOT subtle infusion of Obama’s own logo in EVERYTHING this admin does!

  3. I think that the fact she wants everyone to be at a healthy weight is impossible with the way food is already processed in the U.S. and the lack of local and available agriculture. I also feel deprived when i am told how to eat and how much of it to eat. If I am hungry why would someone stop me from eat? Is she telling people in Africa to loose weight too? I mean damn, I didn’t think everyone should have a skinny waist like barbie? What if I think it is disgusting to look like a twig? I mean half of those sold called skinny women are anorexic or over excessively excessive anyway…I just want to be healthy damn it! Sorry about my frustration, but its so hard to listen to someone who doesn’t have metabolism and thyroid problems talk about losing weight and being healthy. Can’t I just maintain my health with out all the pressure to look like a barbie? I;’m sure she is not telling opera to stop eating, and her ass has always been fat.

  4. So does anyone know what Michelle Obama’s BMI is? Frankly, she stole the whole MyPlate concept from Eatdrinkmovethink.com’s Fudoo Boards – outright stole it and took credit for it. Only thing is, the Fudoo Boards are for kids to learn about nutrition.

    MO claims the food choices Americans make is what’s causing this “obesity epidemic” – has she taken the time to address the high percentage of glutens added to pretty much any food purchased on the inside perimeters of a grocery store? Is she even remotely aware that glutens are added to foods simply to increase one’s appetite – inducing hunger even after eating an hour before? Why does she think glutens are also added to pet food? Animals do not need wheat gluten – it makes them eat more. Has she addressed the issue of the high percentages of high fructose corn syrup added to just about everything manufactured in the US?

    Has she taken the time to address why Allura Red AC is still permitted in all of our manufactured foods including children’s food, candy and medications? When it is a *known* carcinogen? Has she made the public aware it is even in flavored yogurts?

    Has she taken the time to investigate why all of our wheat and grains grown in the USA is genetically engineered to withstand enormous amounts of pesticides – aka “Roundup Ready” – which basically means these grains are genetically modified to blow up in an insects stomach causing them to explode? Blow up in your stomach? Anyone have that problem?

    Has she taken the time to research the growth hormones pumped into our dairy cattle (approved by the USDA) and estrogens – what effect that has on our population? And she’s suggesting even more dairy – when this is what’s causing our young tween boys to grow breasts like Anna Nicole Smith? More dairy, Michelle? Really?

    Let us know, would you please? And perhaps take a look over at OpenSecrets.Org and see how much the above industries have pumped into the Obama machine.

    Nah, you can keep MyPlate, Michelle – we really don’t like to eat stolen goods.

  5. This whole thing is still a joke. The USDA is a tool of the meat and dairy industries. Just like the MyPyramid, the MyPlate approach still recommends 2-3 cups of milk a day per person, no matter your gender, weight, or age.

    2-3 cups of dairy a day?!?!? Ye gods, that’s ridiculous and merely designed to bolster the dairy industry’s income.

    I haven’t had one cup of dairy in 5 years and I’m healthy as a horse. Cow’s milk is just one way for humans to get calcium, and a much less efficient way than, say, dark leafy green vegetables. Who is cow’s milk designed for? Baby cows…

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