Cultivating Better Nutrition: Can the Food Pyramid Help Translate Dietary Recommendations into Agricultural Goals?

Christian J. Peters, Gary W. Fick, Jennifer L. Wilkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


An explicit goal of agricultural production should be good human nutrition. Concurrent trends of chronic disease and obesity in the developed world and energy and micronutrient deficiency in the developing world reflect in part an inadequate correspondence between food production and food needs. Cropland allocation is one leverage point for changing the current system so that food supplies better reflect nutritional requirements. However, most methods for assessing the adequacy of food supplies or agricultural output tend to focus only on calories. Fortunately, recent research by the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) suggests that the Food Pyramid can serve as a basis for estimating how cropland should be allocated to meet nutritional needs. While the Food Pyramid has been subjected to a flurry of criticism in both the academic and the popular press, the methods employed by ERS allow for a whole-diet approach to food supply assessment and are useful irrespective of any future changes in Food Guide recommendations. Moreover, the current critique of the Pyramid completely ignores agricultural sustainability and questions of what kind of diets are possible for the food system to produce in the long term. For this reason, agricultural scientists must become engaged in the discussion of human nutrition to ensure that agroecological concerns are included in determining how to allocate land resources to nutritious ends.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1424-1431
Number of pages8
JournalAgronomy Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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