Big Grain and the Pyramid

The picture on this page shows two artistic renderings of the original USDA 1992 food guide pyramid, and the same thing is wrong with both of them. The bottom tier, representing the foods that people are supposed to eat most of, is the “Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta Group.” Depending on size, gender, age, and activity level, a person is advised to consume between 6 and 11 servings per day from this group.

What is a serving, anyway? Surprisingly, this information was not easy to track down, but the website Serenity Dental did it. In regard to rice or pasta (but not other foods), a serving is ½ cup. So, theoretically, it would be all right if someone ate five and a half cups of pasta every day. Someone big. Would that person become even bigger? Undoubtedly.

The government-recommended food pyramid idea was borrowed from Sweden. Back when the first American version came off the drawing board, it was different from what the Department of Agriculture eventually disseminated, as staff writer Alex Mayyasi learned from Dr. Luise Light, leader of the team that invented it.

Her team placed fruits and vegetables at the base of the pyramid and whole-grain breads and cereals further up. The new guidelines not only switched carbohydrates to the base of the pyramid, they moved processed foods like crackers and cornflakes, which Dr. Light and her team had placed at the top of the pyramid with chocolate, to the base too.

In other words, the fix was in. This graphic representation of supposedly ideal nutrition is a perfect example of how the game is rigged to benefit agribusiness and hurt the ordinary person. By strange coincidence, almost the totality of government subsidies go to corn, soy, wheat and rice, and only then if they are grown according to the monoculture model, which is harmful for a number of reasons.

The “Food Pyramid” dominated nutrition education for two decades. There is one thing worse than neglecting to provide nutritional information in schools, and that is to teach incorrect nutritional information, motivated by the greed of manufacturers who stock the endlessly deep pockets of lobbyists.

Billions of dollars are at stake every year, and many people see the Farm Bill as the basic cause of the obesity epidemic, because of this support of industries that really don’t need it. Lauren Servin wrote:

Those that qualify for these payments are mostly big commodity firms […] much of the government subsidy gets banked as extra profits. The subsidies not only add to the national debt, but incentivize the overproduction of crops that are the major ingredients in unhealthy foods.

Servin notes that in the five years between 1995 and 2010, the government subsidized commodity crops to the tune of $167 billion. Corn alone got $77 billion. These are supposed to be food subsidies, yet most corn is used for animal feed, or to make fuel or very harmful sweeteners. Servin also relates the history of how and why this all happened, concluding:

It is also hard to ignore that the main ingredients in these cheap, unhealthy foods are the subsidized commodity crops that have flourished due to policies enacted during the ‘80s and ‘90s… This toxic combination of deregulation and perpetual subsidy has led to the overproduction and overuse of crops that we find in junk food.

Legislation has given all the advantage to grain crops, which can be transmogrified into everything from engine fuel to makeup. Corn and soy alone account for almost half the profit made by American agriculture, but little edible food.

Corn is the source of half the sweeteners that show up in beer and soda, and for the oil for deep-fryers. None of those products is essential to health. Beer, soda, and deep-fried food are in fact detrimental to health. Why are such monstrous subsidies granted to corn producers?

The average American eats half a pound of meat every day, an amount that many nutritionists consider far too much, while other nutritionists shun meat as totally unnecessary. Almost half the corn crop goes to feeding cattle, and the arguments against that practice are too numerous go into here, so we will just briefly mention that cows were not designed by Nature to eat corn. Cows are prone to a lot of diseases, and to prevent those diseases they are also fed massive amounts of antibiotics, and antibiotics are blamed for childhood obesity.

By the way, farms that receive grain subsidies are forbidden to grow fruits and vegetables. Alex Mayyasi wrote:

This puts the government in the insane position of subsidizing the cost of fast food while actively prohibiting more farms from growing fruits and vegetables…

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “What is a Serving?,”, undated
Source: “The Food Industrial Complex,”, 03/24/16
Source: “How Our Government Incentivizes the Overproducion of Junk Food,”, 06/02/12
Image source: (fair use)

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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