The Berkeley Food Pyramid

We had a great time developing the design of the Berkeley Food Pyramid.
Our friendly debates over the contents and "hierarchy" required extensive and obsessive use of all the pyramid elements.


Brainstorming and Invention

Sitting around the dinner table after a good meal of local food and wine, four Berkeley neighbors and good friends—Michael Corbett, Mary Hardy, Scott McCreary and Renée Robin—discussed an item in the day’s news: the USDA had issued new nutrition guidelines, rendering obsolete the old food pyramid posters hung on classroom walls.   The group began imagining a design for a Berkeley-specific food pyramid, a tongue-in-cheek graphic that could capture Berkeley’s unique attitude toward food.

Four Core Elements

One of us asserted that of course coffee, chocolate, garlic, and red wine were really the essential foods, but whether the wine was red or white became such a robust debate  that we didn’t quite get beyond the four.   It was easy to agree on certain elements—coffee would have the primary place—but it was not as easy to reach consensus on which items to include and where to position them in the hierarchy. The challenge dominated conversation during many more shared meals

Taking Action: A Pyramid Concept is Born

Consensus was never quite reached, but after months of good-humored back and forth, the women sketched a pyramid building on the four initial elements and quietly enlisted Berkeley graphic designer Noreen Rei Fukumori to illustrate the concept, and had it printed onto t-shirts as holiday gifts for the two men. In keeping with the original concept and ethos, the shirts were printed in Berkeley by local union labor on 100% organic cotton, using natural dyes.

Lair of The Bear — the Key Crossroads

The Berkeley Food Pyramid remained, for the most part, an inside joke until the summer the families brought a few t-shirts to UC Berkeley’s beloved Lair of the Bear family camp. That year, Russell Greenberg, director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, gave the Camp Blue fireside chat about conserving American songbirds. Buying and supporting hade-grown coffee, he explained, was critical to preserve the birds’ Central American winter habitat, threatened by industrialized coffee plantations. When Dr. Greenberg’s wife spotted the Berkeley Food Pyramid with coffee at the apex of the pyramid, she decided that Russ—a proud CAL alumnus—needed to have the shirt with that design.

The Smithsonian Connection

Russ Greenberg wore his Berkeley Food Pyramid t-shirt around Washington, D.C. and the Smithsonian for several years. Eventually well-worn and faded, the t-shirt caught the attention of Nanci Edwards, a curator at the Smithsonian, who was planning an exhibit to coincide with the permanent installation of Julia Child’s kitchen. Ms. Edwards included the Berkeley Food Pyramid in the exhibit at the National Museum of American History —“Food: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000.”

The Berkeley Food Pyramid can be found on the National Museum of American History's website here.  

Serendipity at the Food Exhibit

On a site visit to the Smithsonian exhibit, members of the publicity team for Peet’s Coffee & Teas spotted the Berkeley Food Pyramid. The team was planning the celebration of Peet’s 50th anniversary and intended to spotlight Peet’s origin at the heart of Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. incorporated the Berkeley Food Pyramid in their publicity campaign, and today, Berkeley Food Pyramid posters hang on the wall at a number of Peet’s throughout the Bay Area, Chicago, DC and beyond. The graphic still elicits chuckles and comments about which food items should, or should not, have been included.

The Peet’s Project

In 2014 the representative of Peets Coffee contacted us about using our design as a poster for their Peets stores.  As a neighbor of the Original Peets and longtime devotees, we were delighted.  We held fast to keep the poster free of brand names, but negotiated the perfect amicable agreement, in a design evoking Peets unique banded “to-go cups” at the top of the pyramid, and their earth-toned theme. 

This is our most popular archival quality poster. Click here to purchase!

Featured by the Berkeley Historical Society—Berkeley’s Obsession with Food

The Berkeley Historical Society is dedicated to researching, sharing, and fostering appreciation for the uniqueness and diversity of cultures that comprise the rich mosaic of Berkeley. 

We’re pleased that our Pyramid is featured here as part of the Berkeley Historical Society's first online exhibit, “Berkeley’s Fascination with Food.” We're proud to contribute to the food history of this great city.  

The exhibit’s section on the “Food Revolution” of the 1970s-1980s includes the Gourmet Ghetto Chronology, Counterculture Connections, the Garlic Connection, and—Whimsy: the Berkeley Food Pyramid featuring our poster and a version of our story.

For historical accuracy, though all four of us were students in Berkeley during the 1970s or early 1980s, we didn’t invent our Pyramid until the early 1990s—when we were neighbors living blocks from the Gourmet Ghetto.


  • 2014 Berkeley Food Pyramid Posters - Earthtones - 24" x 27"
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  • Original Berkeley Food Pyramid Posters - Green - 14"x17"
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What People are saying about these posters...

I was out with my son and he declared: "Mom, It's YOUR food pyramid." I had to have it. It'll hang in our dining room. 

Our daughter just finished her first year at Cal and we've spent time in Berkeley over the past year.  We saw in a shopping area in/near Berkeley and really loved it.

I saw it first at a Peet's coffee in Orinda when I first moved to the Bay Area (from Boston). I am a food-loving dietitian who studied public health nutrition and food systems at Cal, and I fell in love with the poster as soon as I saw it!

Thank you! It'll arrive just in time for me to give it to my good friend (who lives in Berkeley!).

I received the poster, and my partner loves it! We first saw the Berkeley Food Pyramid in a coffeeshop in Chicago. My girlfriend is thrilled now that it's in our apartment!

I saw it on the ground floor of our building in Chicago, and I’ve been admiring it for a while now.  My wife and I are Slow Food members, so I thought it would be a great gift for her.

I saw the poster in Corte Madera and thought it perfectly fits my daughter.  She's a recent graduate in Nutrition, Food in Business, and a self proclaimed foodie/coffee enthusiast. (correction:  coffee obsessed!)   Cheers to the holidays and coffee, red wine, chocolate, whole grains and lots of veggies!! (in reverse order)

I am a Registered Dietitian and got a kick out of it! Even though I live in San Jose it was just a very fun poster to hang in our office. 

Thank you! I saw it at a Peet's Coffee in Washington DC. I went to Mills College and miss the Bay Area! and of course it encompasses all my favorite foods.