Helping the Food Pyramid Lose Weight

The food pyramid is 10 years old, and if there's one thing the government can't stand -- aside from Osama bin Laden, discovering there's something they haven't gotten around to taxing, and the thought of losing an election and not being able to boss the American public around -- it's having to put up with a pre-adolescent nutritional tool. That's why the U.S. Department of Agriculture (motto: "Putting the Culture in Agriculture") is looking into helping it grow up.

The food pyramid, for those of you who have been too busy sucking the cream out of your Twinkies to pay attention, is the good old Four Food Groups on steroids. They change these guidelines periodically. Before there were four groups there were seven. Prior to that there were twelve. In 1916 there were five, and a long, long time ago there was just one: pond scum. Luckily we've progressed since then. Well, all except vegans.

The food groups as they stand now include fruit; vegetables; meat, poultry, and fish; fats and sweets; bread, cereal, and pasta; and milk and cheese. They don't include insects, radioactive produce, or Slim Jims, Fear Factor notwithstanding. But that doesn't mean they might not be added. All except the Slim Jims anyway. In northern China they've been fighting off a huge locust invasion, which lead the Guangzhou Daily (motto: "If you're dealt lemons, make lemon chicken") to inform its readers that locusts can be made into "tasty and nourishing dishes." Talk about seeing the wok half full. Meanwhile in Moscow, 1,500 pounds of berries were pulled from local markets because -- whoops! -- it turns out they contained 14 times the acceptable level of radioactive cesium-137. Gee, and people wondered why those Chernobyl� brand berries were so cheap. And glowed in the dark.

There's little question the USDA needs to revise the food pyramid. After all, a lot has changed in the 10 years since the pyramid was created, especially the size of people's waistlines. Obesity is so widespread in this country that 27 percent of adults and 12.5 percent of children can't fit into last month's jeans. While other factors could be to blame, including incessant fast food restaurant advertising, the fact that teenagers get over 30 percent of their vegetable intake from potato chips and french fries, and of course Saddam Hussein, it's also possible that there's a direct causal relationship between the food pyramid and waddling, since the problem's gotten worse, not better. In order to be certain we need to establish a Senate subcommittee, find out if Time is making it a cover story, and get someone -- like me for instance -- to do an in-depth study on the matter. A big, fat, cushy, long-term government funded study, of course. With Krispy Kremes delivered to the office every morning.

Officials at the USDA aren't saying how much, or even if, they'll revise the food pyramid, though I suspect they will since revisionism has overtaken red tape as the favorite activity of political appointees. Even if they rearrange the categories and adjust the recommended daily servings there's still the problem of definition. After all, the USDA considers potato chips and french fries to be vegetables. Not only that, they say you can count them as part of two -- count 'em, 2! -- food groups at once: vegetables and fat. This is good because it promotes efficient eating. Dump some ketchup on those fries and -- hold onto your spuds, George -- you've just added a serving of the fruit and vegetable food group too! That's three food groups rolled up in one supersized snack. Toss some chili and cheese on those fries and you're set for the day.

Now you see why they need to clarify things. Do they consider Chee-tos to be dairy? How about soy milk, is it vegetable, dairy, or both? Or is it just an unidentifiable substance which should be illegal when combined with a latte? Please, don't go wasting good coffee on soy milk. Don't you know there are bean pickers around the world who are making sub-pitiful wages? The least you can do is not insult them by diluting the fruits of their hard labor with low-fat decaf soy milk, something that isn't even on the USDA food pyramid.

The next thing they need to do is change the shape -- it's sending the wrong subliminal message. Think about it, we're using an object with a big wide bottom as our role model. Thus, when we look in the mirror and see a big wide bottom staring back at us, we feel like it's the sign of a job well done rather than something that needs to be remedied. They should change it to a narrow Food Cylinder.

If the New And Improved Food Cylinder doesn't whip us into shape and cure our obesity, maybe Richard Simmons can. Just kidding. Actually he tried that but we all got confused as to whether the oldies we were sweating to referred to the bad music he played or his audience. The responsibility for the Food Cylinder should be switched to a different government agency. Like the IRS. For years the government has been taxing cigarettes, at this point largely to make it so expensive that more people quit smoking. In New York City they recently raised the tax another $1.42, which brings the price of a pack of cigarettes to $7. That's 50 cents a cigarette. At this rate the homeless have a better chance of bumming a quarter than they do a spare butt. I know if I still smoked I couldn't afford my old two pack a day habit. Hell, for that $400 a month you can rent a closet in New York.

If the government started taxing food based on a reverse health scale, foods with high fat content, lots of calories, and little nutritional value would have a tax slapped on them. The worse the food is for you, the higher the tax. Then if people wanted to be poorer and fatter, it would be their choice. But with luck they might stop and think, "Hey, if I forego that highly taxed 24-pack of fried pork rinds every week, at the end of a year I could take a two-week cruise with the savings and look so much better in my bathing suit." It can't hurt to try.

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