I can remember staring at the food pyramid poster in health class every day in Elementary School. The message of the graphic is still ingrained in my memory to this day: to maintain a healthy lifestyle, I needed to eat a balanced diet. The simple graphic told students to eat larger portions of the food groups at the base of the pyramid (grains, fruits, and vegetables) and the fewer portions of the foods at the top (fats, oils, and sweets).
Only in the last few years have I realized the flaws of this graphic developed by the USDA and pushed out throughout the US educational system. The food pyramid explicitly privileged diets that include meat and animal products as the healthiest option, titling the protein category as meat. Even in new initiatives, like My Plate, include a dairy section and glides overplant-based protein sources. Although a government requirement for vegetarianism would shift the dietary pendulum too far, meatless diets should be acknowledged as viable, healthful diets for the American people.
Simply put, the diet debate has focused on the wrong issue. Rather than debate omnivore versus vegan, government support for the reduction of large quantities of meat would help Americans realize that meatless is a healthful, practical option.
Research has shown that well thought-out meatless diets can have major health benefits that can lead to long, healthy lives. A vegetarian diet may help prevent Heart Disease, Cancer, and Type 2 Diabetes. However, proper planning is necessary to ensure that sufficient nutrients are consumed. Vegetarianism can consist of a diet of bread, pasta, and cheese; although delicious, any diet can be unhealthy when it consists of too many foods from a food group, regardless of if it includes meat.
Some may claim that a government mandate of a plant-based diet is the solution. This is equally impractical and ineffective.
When the US government has attempted to regulate the consumption of substances like alcohol or tobacco, cultural phenomena including social disapproval, scientific innovation, and shifts in public perception have driven public policy (Kersh and Monroe, 163-166). Although these activities have begun, there is no large-scale movement to cut meat out of our diets.
Mandating reduced meat consumption as a governmental policy will not improve the eating habits of the American people. Food consumption is polarizing issue, with individuals adamantly sticking to personal preferences. Eating is perceived as a deeply intimate act, one in which individuals decide their nutrition.
Michael Pollan put it simply: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Before the government can formally support meatless diets, vegetarian diets need the even footing that comes with governmentally-backed legitimacy. Demonstrating this support is simple: rather than viewing primarily plant-based diets as an alternative to the mainstream, the government should present vegetarian diets as equally valid as meat-based diets.
Opponents may claim that these adjustments in messaging are trivial and will not impact the eating habits of everyday Americans in the grocery store. This is simply not true. Words matter, as do pictures. That infamous pyramid graphic design is known by all and questioned by few.
Formal government acknowledgement of vegetarianism’s viability as a healthy eating practicecoupled with its ethical and environmental backingsis by no means the end-all-be-all solution to the healthy eating crisis plaguing the United States. However, this shift in messaging is an important and necessary step toward progress. Support for plant-based eating needs to come from the ground up to become a sustainable shift. Giving the meatless movement, the opportunity to prove itself is the needed first step in a long trek toward healthier American eating practices.
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