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The biggest question about Congress making pizza a veggie

Cheesy, fatty, preservative-laden…vegetable?

As we waited for our glasses of wine at a local restaurant, my friend’s eyes shifted to the TV screen behind my head and grew wide.

I asked him what was wrong, figuring it had to be something big for him to trail off mid-story.

“Well, they’ve gone and done it. Pizza’s a vegetable now.”

I whipped my head around to face the screen. Sure enough, the ticker at the bottom of the news show read “Congress: Pizza a Vegetable.”

A cheesy, fatty, preservative-laden vegetable.

We both sighed, and conversation shifted to school lunches, nutrition, and how the frozen food industry is putting a stranglehold on kids’ health.

Because, really–for all the jokes flying around the media about kids being given the blessing to chow down on pizza regularly (“But Mooooommmm, you said I should eat my vegetables!”), that’s the bigger, scarier issue here.

The fact is Presidential pressure to take fare like pizza and fries off school lunch menus just didn’t sit well with certain segments of the food industry–namely the companies that make frozen pizzas, potato growers, and the salt industry. You know, the standard-bearers of good health.

So they pressured Congress to push through a spending bill that would destroy the science-based nutrition standards proposed by the Agriculture Department this year (standards that finally called for a limit on the potato party that is the typical school cafeteria, lowering sodium levels, and increasing the whole grain content in school lunches).

It strikes limits on servings of starchy veggies including the French fries that can be found on school menus on a daily basis. The bill also…in a last-minute addition to meet the federal requirement that subsidized lunch programs include a certain number of vegetables… officially deems the couple of tablespoons of tomato paste on pizza a full-blown vegetable.

Congress put a laughable spin on the proposal, saying it gives school districts more flexibility in improving “the nutritional quality of meals.”

But what it’s really about is protecting special interest groups like the American Frozen Food Institute (yes, that’s real) and the laughably named Coalition for Sustainable Meal Programs over the health and well-being of our nation’s children.

It’s perfectly clear that an industry that produces some of the worst food out there …and believe me I do use the term “food” lightly here … has solidified its stranglehold on kids’ health. Congress has allowed the food industry to take control over food safety and health regulations. Groups like the American Frozen Food Institute now get to decide what’s “healthy”–and their guidelines are, frankly, a joke.

But it’s not a particularly funny joke, because their successful lobbying will result in millions of children who rely on school lunches for sustenance going underserved. They’ll also be growing up with a very strong and flawed message about health and what it takes to take care of our bodies–a message that parents will have to work doubly hard to undo.

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Sources:
“School Food Politics: What’s Missing from the Pizza-as-Vegetable Reporting,” Food Safety News (foodsafetynews.com)

“Pizza as a Vegetable? Congress Proposes New School Lunch Bill,” Fox News (foxnews.com)