For generations of Americans, good nutrition means consuming a balanced diet from the four basic food groups, “layered” in an easy-to-understand scale within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid. Today, however, we’re seeing a multi-pronged attack on the famous food pyramid, with one activist group or another attacking nearly every layer for its own political gain.

The Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, which campaigns against modern agriculture technology, wants to replace the USDA’s food pyramid with a bewildering array of four different food pyramids, each designed for people with Asian, Latin or Mediterranean ethnic origins; there is, of course, a purely vegetarian pyramid for everyone else. For those who want to eat meat, the Oldways pyramids allow for a very small portion… once a month.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) recently initiated a lawsuit against the USDA. Straining credibility, PCRM’s staff counsel claimed that the food pyramid “is a form of rationalized racism that overlooks minority people’s health concerns to sell more products by the meat, dairy and egg industries.” PCRM’s legal action would also expel food science expert advisers at USDA who have any ties to the food industry.

In their public relations campaign to discourage consumption of meat and dairy products, PCRM went so far in 1999 as to publicly propose the U.S. Justice Department initiate tobacco-style class-action lawsuits against the meat and restaurant industries. Their claim? “[M]eat consumption is linked to serious illness and common causes of death.”

Even Action on Smoking and Health is getting into the act, pushing an alternative “Unified Dietary Guideline” pyramid devised by its anti-smoking allies that would strictly reduce the top layers of dietary fat sources in the USDA pyramid.