Members of Congress love pizza as much as any of us. So, when the United States Department of Agriculture threatened to take it off public school lunch menus, they did what many of us would have done in their position — they officially declared it a vegetable.
Earlier this year, the USDA proposed new standards that would’ve limited both sodium and potatoes for school lunch lines — moves some conservatives in Congress are fighting.
Supported by the food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said they’re trying to “prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and to provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals.”
Nutrition advocates are understandably upset. “They are making sure that two of the biggest problems in the school lunch program, pizza and french fries, are untouched,” said Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Kraig Naasz, president of the American Frozen Food Institute, disagrees. “This… recognizes the significant amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste, ensuring that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta,” he said.
But Amy Dawson Taggart, director of a group called Mission: Readiness, made up of retired generals advocating for healthier school lunches, scoffed at the notion, saying, “It doesn’t take an advanced degree in nutrition to call this a national disgrace.”
Back in 1981, some people wanted ketchup reclassified from a condiment to a vegetable, which would’ve allowed public schools to cut out a serving of vegetables and still fulfill nutrition requirements for school lunches. Although the move was largely derided and never implemented, it looks like those advocates are finally getting part of their wish, for now.