USDA Serves Nutrition Guidelines on a Plate

Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled a new icon and social media campaign to educate Americans about good nutrition and health. Replacing the Food Pyramid, MyPlate has landed on tables in the form of a dinner plate divided into four pie slices. Vegetables and grains make up the two larger quadrants, while protein and fruits make up the difference. Dairy occupies a glass on the side.

The pyramid shape has been used since 1992, which recommended a bottom-heavy 6–11 servings of grains; 3–5 servings of vegetables; 2–4 servings of fruit; and for dairy as well as meat and other forms of protein, 2–3 servings of each. In 2005, the pyramid became MyPyramid, an updated logo described diplomatically by Michael Bierut as “well-intentioned but dysfunctional” (his essay “Me and MyPyramid” on Design Observer is a must-read).

MyPlate is far simpler to digest than MyPyramid was, and the plate is already somewhat ubiquitous as a symbol for what to eat (nutritionist Marion Nestle wrote on her Food Politics blog about plate graphics used by the American Diabetes Association and others), so it should easily be accepted by the public. Exactly how much of each food type should be a part of each meal is not entirely clear from MyPlate, but vegetables play a greater role now, and each section is meant to suggest the ratio of food group on the plate, not actual portion size. As reported by the Associated Press, MyPlate is "designed to be 'more artistic and attractive' and to serve as a visual cue for diners, said Robert Post of the Agriculture Department's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion." Updated nutritional guidelines were announced in January, so the food icon redesign is the next step in addressing obesity at the national level.

So far, what do designers think of the new symbol? On Twitter @chrisfahey commented: "New could be better. Protein should be red. Fruits + veggies should be analogous colors (green + orange or yellow)." To that @empressgui responded: "It's a step in the right direction, but agree. It also doesn't address fats..." 

The New York Times reported that more than $2 million has already spent on the design and development of this new campaign, and we hope to report more on that process here. In the meantime, what do you think of it?

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About the Author:

Sue Apfelbaum is a freelance writer and editor with a focus on design, art, music, film and culture. From 2006 to 2012 Sue was the editorial director for AIGA, publishing critical, inspirational and educational content about design on the AIGA website and developing programming for AIGA's webinars. Visit