The million-dollar pyramid

Published April 30, 1992|Updated Oct. 11, 2005

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has unveiled its new nutritional chart. Eat up. This meal cost you a million dollars.

Though the USDA was trying to do nothing more than translate its 1990 nutrition guidelines into a chart, some of the affected food industries weren't too thrilled. Last year, when the department was getting ready to release its new food "pyramid," the National Cattlemen's Association (read: red meat) and the National Milk Producers Federation (read: milk fat) got riled. The pyramid placed beef and dairy products under fats and oils. Bad billing.

Rather than be amused by such quaint behavior, Agriculture Secretary Edward Madigan pandered to it. He hired a Boston market-research firm to test the pyramid on 3,000 people in five cities and ran the federal government $855,000 further in debt to pay for it. The result: A year later, after public interest groups and scientists vehemently rejected the industry's push, USDA stuck with its pyramid nutrition chart. Fats and oils are at the top, to be eaten "sparingly," and grains, vegetables and fruits are at the base, to be eaten regularly.

The reaction from industry groups would have been comical if the taxpayers hadn't paid nearly $1-million to get it. Karl Hoyle of the National Milk Producers Federation said his group wanted a "bowl" but will settle for the pyramid: "Who knows, these studies might have showed us that the nutrition octagon was the way to go." Whatever.

Madigan is the man behind the million-dollar pyramid, and at the base of his administration's political pyramid is a president who showed Tuesday night he can raise $9-million in election campaign money at one meal. That's an impressive diet.