I mentioned wanting to teach a program on food and nutrition that gives participants the tools to develop healthful (and joyful) eating habits on their own, rather than one that mandates a strict regimen. This does not mean ignoring others’ recommendations and encouraging everyone to eat willy-nilly. To the contrary, this means doing the work of comparing different dietary guidelines and evaluating them. One way of going about this is by looking at graphic nutrition guides such as food pyramids.
Such a strategy has several advantages. First, it places students in the driver’s seat and requires them to steer the course using their own judgment, pushing them to ask questions such as, Who is putting out this information? Is the source reliable? Are there scientific studies that contradict the advice given—and if so, how do I decide which to believe? Are the guidelines offered something I can and want to follow? Second, the use of images engages visual learners as well as students who are interested in art and communications. In that vein, a comparative approach to graphic nutrition guides will allow for a evaluation not only of dietary advice, but also of the quality of the infographics themselves: who is the intended audience, and most importantly, whether they are appealing to the eye and easy to understand.
As such, we might not only comment on how the Healthy Eating Pyramid virtually upends the USDA’s pyramid:
but we can also discuss how both the USDA and Harvard’s School of Public Health (and other food and nutrition agencies around the world) have replaced their food pyramids with food plates:
This exercise will also allow us to track interesting historical changes, view cross-cultural differences in eating habits (I am a big fan of the Oldways pyramids), and also learn about different fad and vegetarian diets:
As a culminating activity, it would be a lot of fun for each participant to design and present his own graphic nutrition guide, accompanied by a short written component explaining/defending his nutritional and design choices.