Everyone with a mouth will recognize the above image. It is, of course, the official USDA “Improved American Food Guide Pyramid”–that charming graphic which, since 1992, has stood as the gold standard for healthy eating.
Actually, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the food pyramid. Before that, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the USDA’s “Basic Four Food Groups” (which guided us in our eating from 1956 until 1992). There was even more controversy when a fifth basic food group was added in the 1970′s that included sugars, fats and alcohol, thereby making two Twinkies, a spoonful of lard and a martini a perfectly acceptable breakfast.
Before we had the Four (or Five) Basic Food Groups, we had the “Basic Seven,” introduced originally by Franklin Roosevelt, which, having been based on research done in the very early 1900′s, I imagine recommended things like eating one whole hog daily, washing it down with a bucket of strong beer and starting every day with a digestive of blackstrap molasses, bacon fat and gravel. Needless to say, there was some controversy there as well. And come tomorrow, we’re going to have a whole new set of dietary guidelines (which, if the rumors are to be believed, will come in the shape of a pie chart–with no pie included), courtesy of the vegetable-loving, obesity-hating Obama administration. And you know what I’m guessing will attend the release of these new guidelines? Controversy. Lots and lots of controversy. Starting with the fact that it doesn’t have any space for dessert and ending with accusations that pie charts are obviously a tool of creeping socialism.
So here’s what I’m thinking. What we really need are dietary guidelines that are somewhat more area-specific. One taxpayer-funded graphic that is supposed to offer wisdom to every person in every region of this great nation is, I think, a bit small minded and far too generic to be of any real use. Like for example, when I was living in Seattle, my personal dietary pyramid was just completely full of healthy, organically grown and locally harvested fruits and vegetables, berries that had been sung to sleep every night by gentle hippies and oysters that leapt, of their own volition, from the waters of the Hood Canal straight onto my plate. But this was mostly because Seattle is a place that actively chases off chain restaurants (like with torches and pitchforks), has virtually no barbecue culture, very few decent taquerias, a loved and respected population of farmers, and an environment so verdant and fertile that I could grow fancy mushrooms on my bath mat just by being lax in my housekeeping.
In Denver, on the other hand, a significant portion of my daily caloric intake came from breakfast burritos, cold Coronas, sweetbreads and charcuterie–my pyramid weirdly lopsided, heavy on the meat and fat and taco categories, and taken up, in large part, by the thick Denver-cut steaks that are handed out on the street by members of the Junior Chamber of Commerce Ladies Auxiliary.
Okay, so that last part isn’t true, but how awesome would it have been if every tourist visiting Denver were handed a couple pounds of steak upon landing at the airport? “Welcome to the Mile High City, Mr. McGillicutty! Here’s a brochure listing all the mountain biking trails. Here’s a growler of chile beer from the Wynkoop. And here’s a steak to go with it.” In Boulder, they could just give everyone a hacky-sack, a mangy dog, a filthy piece of string to walk it with and a photocopied collection of Noam Chomsky essays. It would be perfect.
Anyway, what I want to do is to make up a Philly version of the new dietary guidelines pie chart. Obviously, it will include pizza and cheesesteaks and soft pretzels and sfogliatelle, tomato pies from Corropolese Bakery, hoagies from Wawa, maybe a little Super Poutine from Adsum and burgers from Village Whiskey–all in varying percentage of ideal daily intake. And what I need from you folks are some suggestions.
What foods can you not live without in Philly? What do you eat every day (or every other day) which defines you as an eater and Philadelphia as a place? Give me some numbers of what either does make up a significant slice of your daily nutritional make-up, or what you wish could–for example, I do eat a fair amount of cured meat in a day (on a good day…), but I wish it were all consumed in the form of Parma pizzas from Osteria.
You folks come up with a list. I will turn my wicked chart-making skills loose on it. And by this time tomorrow, maybe we’ll have a set of Philadelphia-only dietary guidelines which can stand up against the new USDA version.