Redesigning the Food Pyramid: Process Post

Since I also happen to be doing some work on agricultural supply -and- what I would call attachment ecologies (these are links that create what we call health, wealth, concepts, diet, and technology), I started to wonder how the food pyramid might be implemented using the Indian version of a food pyramid and dietary requirements.

My first stop was to take a look at some of the nutritional guidelines designed by the U.S. (since this would be my main focus – for the contest at least).  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture issue new guidelines every 5 years.  I checked out guide for 2005 and the upcoming revisions for 2010 for inspiration.

At the same time I was attempting to find out what guidelines India uses.  This turned out to be trickier that I had anticipated.  The National Institute for Nutrition (NIN) issues the guidelines.  The last time they did this was in 1998.  NIN performed an array of information, education, and communication efforts.  However, despite these efforts, the 2005-06 National Family Health Survey found no significant improvement in the nutritional status of the Indian population in the seven years (1998-2005) since the guidelines were issued.

As it happened, I lucked out with a news article describing how the NIN was looking for suggestions for revising the guidelines and their dissemination – specifically around how to create awareness of the guidelines.  This helped me uncover a few different documents and sources of information.  I tried calling of course, but that was unfortunately not productive as I kept getting passed to someone else.  The basic guidelines can be found at the India Development Portal, but they must be mail ordered from NIN here.  I was able to find specific daily nutritional requirements tables here, but the providence of the document is unclear (I’m guessing NIN).

In the meantime, I started formulating suggestions for how to improve the dissemination of the guidelines.  I sent these to NIN, and a follow-up call revealed that they had seen them, but hadn’t yet responded.  I’m actually optimistic that they might find them useful.

What initially interested me about the pyramid was the opportunity to represent the notion of a networked diet – one that ties into a variety of cultural and ecological options & constraints.  Etching through the design and layout process, I started arriving at some ‘solutions’.

The U.S.-based diet guide arrived first, and as I started wondering what to do with the leftover empty space (while trying to figure out how to make it less flat), I realized that food icons would do both.  Then as I started thinking about how the graphic “assembles” into everyday life, the concept of the food refrigerator magnets started to materialize.

Turing out the Indian version is going to be a bit trickier.  For one thing, “My Weekly Food Choices” and “My Food Web” looses relevance in places where someone else makes decisions for you.  Plus, the collective aspects of eating means the choices are often negotiated within families or groups.  Thus, it will probably become something like “Our Food Web”.

In representing amounts, it’s interesting that Indian guidelines are purely in grams (except milk which is mL).  The U.S. system uses two types of volume (cups and ounces equivalent) and one weight (grams, for oils).  However, I think the next big challenge will be to get some food icons for Indian foods (north and south).

The project also resulted in a longer consideration of the design and framing of dietary guidelines.

Policy brief to the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) around design for dietary guidelines (doc, 52kb).

My Food Web is a decision aid to help people plan their diet on a weekly time scale. It aims to shift people’s dietary time perspectives towards the future, allowing them to plan more effectively in accordance with their dietary objectives. It outlines the amounts of food groups along weekly measures so that shopping trips can be linked to daily food choices. Food type magnets help keep track of what to eat in the different food groups. As
a person makes food choices during the week, the magnets can be moved from what they planned to eat to My Food Web. This shows people what they actually ate and the accumulation of their daily habits.

The design is based on the observation that people do not always make nutritional choices on a daily basis, and that many food choices are made while shopping and planning for the week. My Food Web can be assembled on the refrigerator or used in educational contexts for nutritionists and teachers. People like to talk about the food magnets.

The more subtle goal was to visually shift relational associations with food from the hierarchy-driven pyramid form to a more network-based perspective.

One thought on “Redesigning the Food Pyramid: Process Post

  1. Hi! I love this project! I teach visualization/ information graphic design courses to business students at Parsons in the Design and Management program- I hope to reference this project- it is a great example of turning info-graphics into tools.

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