We’ve all seen those United States Department of Agriculture food pyramids illustrating how people should ideally eat. My guess is that most Americans ignore it. For vegans, there’s good reason to, as even the newest pyramid makes sure to have a place for meat as well as dairy.

Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s leading farm animal protection organization, wants to see an even greater emphasis on vegan eating. While a recent report issued by the USDA in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services concerning new dietary guidelines does call on shifting “food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet” and to “consume only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs,” Farm Sanctuary would like the final draft of the Dietary Guidelines to go a step further and include ways to help people change their dietary habits by suggesting specific plant-based alternatives for Americans to eat.

“Our comments attempt to augment the committee’s suggestion of a shift toward a plant-based diet,” said Dr. Allan Kornberg, executive director of Farm Sanctuary. “Americans should be supplied with a list of healthy alternatives to animal-based foods. As a practicing pediatrician for many years, I know the transition to a plant-based diet would become more conceivable and easily accomplished for the majority of Americans if our Dietary Guidelines reflected healthy options and alternatives to meat, dairy and eggs.”

Farm Sanctuary would also like to see the USDA and HHS undertake a scientific review of the benefits of a low-fat vegetarian or vegan diet in the treatment and prevention of chronic diseases. Dr. Kornberg notes that evidence shows “plant-based diets are best not only for the animals, but for the people’s health as well …  Past studies have already linked vegetarian and vegan diets to the prevention of Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity. We hope the Dietary Guidelines Committee will consider the suggestions we have made when writing the final draft of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.”

While I hope the USDA and the HHS act on Farm Sanctuary’s suggestions, the mere fact that they are considering asking Americans to eat less meat is in itself something of a victory. The USDA has a history of bending to the will of agricultural corporations. Nutrition and public health expert Prof. Marion Nestle has argued for years that the Department ignores scientific evidence regarding optimal diets in favor of placating industry interests. According to Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “The USDA clearly has a conflict of interest … USDA doesn’t want to offend any sector of the agriculture industry. Nutrition advocates should be encouraging people to eat less meat, to eat less cheese and sugar. It’s tough for the USDA to say those things.”

Part of the reason the USDA exists is to promote U.S. agriculture, and they hand out billions to the industry each year. Thus, keeping Big Ag healthy can mean more than keeping everyday Americans healthy. Consider the most recent draft dietary guidelines, which suggests people increase consumption of  “fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products.” Why? There is no proven health reason to consume dairy products. My guess is that this suggestion is to placate those in the animal agriculture industry who might be miffed by the earlier suggestion to eat less meat.

Will the next batch of dietary guidelines incorporate Farm Sanctuary’s suggestions? It depends on whether or not anyone at the USDA has the courage to stand up to the corporate interests that all too often call the shots when it comes to the American diet and the welfare of farm animals.

Ask the USDA to create a more vegan-friendly, animal-friendly food pyramid.

Photo Credit: Farm Sanctuary

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