Is it just me, or does nutritional advice seem to be constantly repackaged in ever more simplistic formats?

Case in point: The new Harvard University School of Public Health “Healthy Eating Plate”—a direct rip-off of USDA’s approach to nutrition, by the way. This latest plate transitions from the old, vaguely 3-D pyramid shape to a flat, two-dimensional circle with the kind of primary colors most kids start learning at about age two (see chart).

Commentary: Dumbing it downJust how dumb are we when it comes to making healthy food choices?

I realize that in our fast-paced. time-crunched world nobody’s got time to actually read anything (other than the powerful prose you find right here online every day, of course). Unless it’s one of several thousand text messages most people spend all day typing.

But as adults expected to navigate an increasingly complex, technology-driven world, have we really gotten to the point where we needkindergarten-level colored-coded sections to tell us what’s supposed goes on our plates at mealtime?


What’s next? Big green stickers on food products that are good to go, and bright red ones if they’re considered “bad?”(Don’t worry: The folks at Harvard’s School of Public Health are probably already working on that one—and guess which color red meat will get?)

This latest Healthy Eating Plate diagram does come with plenty of copy on the side, however—kinda like the way the Harvard meat-o-phobics envision those scaled-down portions of fish and chicken we’re allowed to sneak onto the corner of the plate. Unfortunately, most of their new scheme reflects political and nutritional biases, not the “latest scientific evidence” like they claim.

For example: In the accompanying text, it’s recommended to “limit red meat; avoid bacon, cold cuts and processed meat.” That’s bad enough. But in the background material, the message gets pounded home with authority:

“Replacing red meat with fish, poultry, beans, or nuts could help prevent heart disease, and lowering red meat can lower the risk of diabetes. So make red meat—beef, pork, lamb—only an occasional part of your diet, if you eat it at all. And skip the processed stuff—bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats—since that’s been linked to higher cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.”

In other words, red meat isn’t technically classified as a poison, but we suggest you treat it like those containers of liquid drain cleaner—if you even keep it in your house at all.

Ban the beef

There are a few valuable nuggets buried under the “skip the red meat” and “limit milk and dairy” warnings. Consumers are encouraged to eat whole grains, select healthier cooking oils and up the ante on the number of servings of fruits and vegetables consumed each day. No doubt, we could all benefit from that recommendation—although how the world’s fisheries, which are already severely depleted, are supposed to supply enough seafood to replace all the red meat we’re giving up isn’t clear. Then again, self-styled dietary gurus who hate red meat never bother to think through their messages. Just stop buying beef and all the planet’s problems will be solved.

There’s also a slam on potatoes, which are now considered nutritional bad guys, in case you weren’t aware. As a person whose dad was born on the Emerald Isle, I take exception to condemning a food that kept alive generations of Irish families who had little more than the humble potato and some scraps of bacon on which to subsist.

But the bottom line with Harvard’s approach is not only its bias against animal proteins, but also the incredible disconnect from reality from which its proponents are suffering. To recommend what would be huge increases in the production (and importation) of fruits and vegetables, without considering the implications for food safety and agricultural resource management such a significant shift in the food supply would require is irresponsible in the extreme.

The again, when your goal is to demonize the business of livestock production and the consumption of all the animal foods that result from that noble profession, well, who cares about a few departures from reality along the way?

It’s obvious these “experts” figure we’re too dumb to make any connection between how they tell us to change our diets and how such a shift is supposed to happen.

Dan Murphy is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator