One of my least favorite words in the English language is this one:  SHOULD.  To my mind, it’s an insipid verb overly used by authoritarian types, such as teachers, preachers, and politicians, to instruct the rest of us, from their lofty perches, how to live our lives.  This stuffy “should” too often follows the second-person-plural (or singular) pronoun “you” and is invariably accompanied by a wagging index finger pointed in an outward direction.  I confess, as soon as I hear something along the lines of, “You should do this [or that],” the latent teenage rebel in me thinks, Don’t tell me what to do! and I tune out.

As a writer who relies heavily on food metaphors and food-related stories to make her points and an instructor in both the English and Culinary Arts departments at UNM-Taos, I suppose it’s natural that language and food tend to hybridize in my mind.  So this coming fall semester, when I teach a new Healthy Cooking course, I’ll be careful to watch my language when I explain the USDA’s new food guidelines.  Instead of the dreaded, “You should eat more fruits and vegetables!” for example, I’ll make sure my words are positive and embracing, beginning with, “We will…”

We will go to the government’s new website (www.choosemyplate.gov) to get the lowdown:  how to balance calories, what foods to increase, which foods to reduce, healthful recipes, and much more.  What’s newest now, I see, is the iconography.  The government’s two-decade-old pyramid design has been replaced by a color-filled plate divided into four, nearly equal-size wedges:  a red wedge labeled “Fruits”; a slightly larger, green wedge labeled “Vegetables”; a purple wedge (the same size as the red one) labeled “Protein”; and the remaining wedge in orange, marked “Grains.”  In the upper right is a glass-size circle in blue for “Dairy.”

As William Neuman wrote for The New York Times recently (in “Goodbye Food Pyramid, Hello Dinner Plate”), “The new symbol was designed to underscore a central mantra of the federal government’s healthy eating push:  make half your plate fruits and vegetables.  And it is expected to be a crucial element of the administration’s crusade against obesity, which is being led by the first lady, Michelle Obama.”

This crusader will teach her Culinary Arts students the best techniques for low-fat, high-flavor, healthy cooking and load them up with recipes for fruit desserts and vegetable medleys so tasty they’ll likely fill more than half of their families’ plates.  We will learn how to cook — and eat — more healthfully.

In the meantime, I’m thinking that someone should manufacture a real plate with the new “My Plate” design on it in all its colorful glory, and with ridges delineating the wedges as a playful challenge to kids to “stay within the lines” when they load up their plates (at their school cafeteria, perhaps?) .  Ooops, there I go using the verb “should”:  Someone should…. Ah, but this is a good “should.”