Before there were food plates and food pyramids, the federal government advised us to eat from a food wheel featuring the "Basic Seven." Butter and fortified margarine had their own food group.
This 1943 food wheel was designed primarily to help Americans deal with the shortage of food supplies. Surprisingly, it represented a reduction from the 12 basic food groups identified in 1933. (The Basic Four came in 1956.)
While MyPlate, the latest icon unveiled by the United States Department of Agriculture today, doesn't mention butter specifically and advises eating a slightly greater proportion of fruits and vegetables, it's worth noting that it has no place for sugar or dessert. Gone are the specific illustrations of foods—the bananas, fish, and cheese—depicted here. The food groupings have been greatly simplified.
Both guides quantify and categorize foods, but they're something of a study in contrasts—in 1943, there was too much information and today, there's perhaps too little. This is not to say we should go back to eating like Uncle Sam told our grandparents to eat, but it's a visual reminder that the federal government has long had a hand in making our meals.
Poster via "What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet," an exhibit at the National Archives, opening June 10.