As you may have heard by now, pizza’s starring role as a “vegetable” on school lunch menus has been reaffirmed by the United States Congress, an institution that may not know beans about nutrition but certainly knows a lot about the care and feeding of the frozen food industry.
In a move undermining efforts to fight childhood obesity and contradicting a child nutrition law enacted only last year, the U.S. House has voted to preserve the status of pizza as a “vegetable” and scuttle an effort to limit how often French fries can be served in school lunchrooms.
Why? Because pizza and French fries are among the most commonly consumed foods by participants in the national school lunch program, an $18 billion source of income for the frozen food industry. So, the industry successfully lobbied Congress to force a rewrite of Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules that would have threatened the lunchroom reign of the two big moneymakers.
“Our concern is that the (USDA) standards would force companies in many respects to change their products in a way that would make them unpalatable to students,” said an industry spokesman, quoted in the Reuters story linked below.
Indeed. Let young waistlines continue to grow while the bottom line for education entrepreneurs gets healthier.
School meals subsidized by the federal government have to include a certain amount of vegetables, and, silly as it may sound, pizza has been classified as a “vegetable” based on the amount of tomato paste it includes. (Years ago, you may remember, the Reagan administration tried to classify ketchup as a “vegetable.”) USDA wanted to change the rules on tomato paste. The change would have required pizza to have a least a halfcup of tomato paste to quality as a “vegetable” serving. Current rules, which now likely will remain in place, require just two tablespoons of tomato paste for pizza to be a “vegetable.”
You could say the tomato lobby just got pasted.