Here are a few things that happened in my nutritional life this past week. First, I had a client come into my office bummed out about being fat. She sat down and immediately pointed to different parts of her body that she deemed fat. Of utmost disgust were her arms and her big belly. They definitely had to go. She quieted a little as she said she didn’t mind being big in the thighs and butt, and she thinks her hubby actually likes her like that. I asked about her eating habits. A number of issues presented, including the fact that her husband is incarcerated.
I asked how she felt about me making some suggestions. Without skipping a beat, she replied that she would think it was none of my business and I should leave her alone. Despite her distress, she was not ready for a change–a common human experience. Most often I find some traction, but I did not try too hard in this instance and gave her space. (She did eventually come back and see me again.)
Next, my very own brother, in a comment on my recent post, Diet for a Small Caterpillar informed me that only a small percentage of people actually care about nutrition. I wanted to protest, but he is my big brother and he does seem to know about a lot of things.
And, then, the very next day, the United States Government, without giving me very much notice, obliterated the Food Pyramid and issued the newest expression of the most up to date dietary guidelines–the USDA MyPlate.
Briefly, here is my initial response to the MyPlate. Though I appreciate the challenge and consider it an improvement, its teaching concept has been around for a while now, so I am surprised it is being touted as something unique and innovative. While hailed for its message to eat more fruits and vegetables, I think that is also old news. It is overly simplistic as our national food icon.
It does not really relate to how people eat breakfast and lunch and is not relevant to how many even eat dinner. It does not align with most cultural cuisines and supposes a basic meat and potatoes dietary structure. My dinner plate rarely resembles it. It evades many deeper nutritional questions about protein, dairy, fats, and digestion. Disconcertingly, right under the plate, it says, “Balancing Calories: Enjoy your food but eat less.” This makes a broad assumption about all eaters and ignores the serious issues of those who may need to eat more for various reasons.
Essentially, this model has convinced me that it is time to abandon such efforts. If what my brother says is true, that few people even care; or as my client suggests, that not everyone wants to hear it, why do we keep trying to promote this short shelf life, stale message with such a stagnant image? Maybe it is time to try something new to spread meaningful dietary practice.
I sometimes enjoy a line of iced teas from a Japanese company called Ito En. On their bottles, they offer a nice little haiku. Haiku is a Japanese form of provocative poetry that provides a sense of sudden enlightenment simply, intensely and directly. The bottle I now hold says: ten heron heads blow as pampas grass in the morning fog. Lovely, even though it doesn’t stick to the 5–7–5 traditional haiku structure. Maybe because the tea is distributed in Brooklyn or because it is a form that is flexible. Gazing at this bottle, I am inspired to suggest that we should develop Haikus with various themes to promote nutritional messages with greater nuance. Or, perhaps it would be more American to create some jingles. This could employ many creative artists, and I am sure their output would be funnier or more beautiful than anything produced by our governmental agencies. Michael Pollan’s missive, Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants, could be turned into a catchy dance number.
Just as I was about to declare the week a washout, one other thing happened. On Friday, I was at one of the three schools where I work with the School-Based Health Program. It was my last visit before summer vacation. I prepared a little healthy snack for the kids I had met with during the year and called them down individually to say good-bye. The message I try to instill in these young children is that they each have an amazing and wonderful body. They are all smart enough to choose to care for their bodies in various ways and can make many decisions for themselves about what and how they choose to eat.
In this closing session, I asked these adorable nine to thirteen-year-olds, what have they been paying attention to based on things we had previously talked about. Without much explanation, they each understood this vague question and all had at least a small answer. Some had big impressive answers. My dimming faith was ignited once again. So, maybe this is the relevant dietary inquiry–What are we paying attention to? There is a lot to choose from in this crazy, nutty, nutrition world.
What message would inspire you or what do you think we need to hear? Is the truth of the matter that our governments’ policies are incongruent with an appropriate dietary promotion or our personal experience as eaters? What are you paying attention to?
Please allow yourself a creative moment to pen your own dietary haiku, jingle or other poetic expression and send it along in a comment. Let’s see what emerges.
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In health, Elyn
My Plate Haiku
Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. by Michael (Pollan)