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A Fun Look at the US Government’s Role in the American Diet

By mahir | June 3, 2011

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the new MyPlate icon to guide Americans toward healthy eating. The new icon features a circular dinner plate with colored sections depicting appropriate portions of fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, and protein. The hope is to more clearly show Americans what their daily healthy food intake should look like. But did you know the US government has been involved in helping Americans make eating decisions since colonial times? 

The New York Times recently profiled a new exhibit at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. called “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” The exhibit explores the relationship of the US government to the American diet through documents, artifacts, advertisements, film, and photos.

One ad poster from the 1880s encouraged citizens to “Eat the Carp!” after American waters were so overcome with the fish that they were starting to upset the balance of local ecosystems.

Other archived documents reveal that the USDA started sending explorers around the world in the early 1900′s to find new breeds of plants and bring them back to the country, often facing dangerous circumstances like wild animals. One important discovery as a result of the program: the Meyer lemon, named after American explorer Frank Nicholas Meyer. Meyer lemons are great to cool with, whether in a cobbler or on top of pizza!

Another ad poster from the USDA during WWI boasted the slogan “Uncle Sam Says – garden to cut food costs”. The poster was used to inspire Americans to grow their own food to save government money for the war effort.

The exhibit even takes a look at the tradition of food in the White House and features menus from state dinners and recipes from former heads of state and First Ladies.

While ads from the past may seem extreme, the USDA today plays an important part in regulating food production for safety, as well as encouraging Americans to eat a nutritious, balanced diet. As they roll out a new initiative to guide people toward healthful eating with the MyPlate graphic, it’s fun to remember the government’s role in the country’s diet – whether it means consuming a lot more carp or gardening at home.

If you’re planning a visit to Washington, D.C. soon, make sure to plan a visit to this exhibit!

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