There is a new icon here to help Americans choose what food to put on their plate, and while it took me awhile to realize its true beauty, it finally struck me recently that the guide is both more helpful to people looking to improve their diet than previous graphics published by the government but it also in a way legitimizes both vegetarian and vegan diets.
I remember being in high school in 1992 when the government released the image known as the Food Pyramid. It had grains on the bottom (including both simple and complex carbohydrates in the form of breads, cereals, rices, and others) and fats all the way on top, representing what should be consumed minimally. While fruits and vegetables came before milks and meats (signifying that more vegetables and fruits should be consumed than anything above it graphically including both milks and meats) it still co-existed with them. To me that meant that they were obligatory.
When I first ventured into veganism in 1996 (and subsequently failed) I took in too much of the bottom of the pyramid (grains) without getting enough vegetables and fruits or protein from the appropriate sources — I was more of a junk vegan than proper vegan and I didn’t turn to any support networks or groups to guide me to proper eating habits and ended up eating meat after not too long.
A 2005 update to the pyramid featured the different groups running parallel to one another and also had a generic gender free person running up the steps alongside the pyramid. Rather than using height to indicate quantity, the new guide used thickness. To me it still looked as though everything was meant to be eaten equally, and it still had meat and dairy.
The new guide to food is not a pyramid at all but rather a plate representing what a person should be eating on a regular basis. Now there are five different sections labeled Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Protein, and Milk. One extremely important point is that the milk section is off to the side — to me this is indicative of something that is optional or that can be added if wished.
Moreover, and more importantly, the section formerly strewn with meat names is now called simply protein. It is entirely up to the individual to chose their protein source. Does it have to come from animal sources? According to the new food guide, absolutely not. Well done, US Government, for giving those of us in the vegetarian and vegan worlds a sense of legitimacy by stating officially that you do not have to eat meat to eat a proper diet.