Congress Invents New Vegetable: The Pizza

File this under R for Ridiculous.

Millions of kids every day receive free or reduced price lunch at school. The federal government foots the bill through the USDA. The program has been under attack in the last few years because of the low quality and nutrition sparse foods being served. What can you expect for about three dollars per meal?

To be fair, The USDA does have strict nutrition guidelines for food served in schools. However, the guidelines are shaped in many cases by food industry lobbies. Take, for example, chocolate milk. The dairy industry has convinced the USDA that a 1 cup serving of chocolate milk, with 3 teaspoons of added sugar, is the only way to convince kids to drink milk. And so, the USDA, despite knowing better, keeps American kids on a sugar high.

But back to the pizza story.

French fries and pizza have become a staple in many schools, sometimes being served daily. That’s because potatoes count as a vegetable serving, and the tomato paste in the pizza counts as a vegetable serving too.

Earlier this year, the USDA decided to revise some of its nutriton guidelines. More specifically, to double the amount of tomato paste that would count as a vegetable serving from 2 tablespoons to half a cup. This would basically disqualify pizza from being eligible for “veggie serving” status.

Well, the food service companies would have none of that, and they made some calls to their congressional representatives. (Don’t you wish that the rest of us could have Congress’s ear as well?). And earlier this week, the House of Representatives struck down the USDA’s initiative.

Now don’t get us wrong, tomato sauce can be a very healthy source of nutrition. In fact, certain anti-oxidants called lycopenes are more bioavailable in tomato paste than in fresh tomatoes. But the problem begins when the relatively small amount of paste is served as pizza with refined flour, mountains of cheese and no other vegetable.

USDA spokesperson Courtney Rowe, obviously agitated, said:

“While it’s unfortunate that some members of Congress continue to put special interests ahead of the health of America’s children, USDA remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals.” 

Too bad there’s nobody out there REALLY looking out for the kids who need nutritious foods the most.

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  • Brooke

    I’m quite saddened by this post – but it does not have anything to do with tomato servings.
    Firstly,  “(Don’t you wish that the rest of us could have Congress’s ear as well?)” – What a way to rally the troops!  I mean, if enough constituents feel a certain way and make it known, their representative WILL listen.  Furthermore, you (yes, YOU reading this) can either write, CALL or even drop into your representative’s office.  Most of them have a little sign outside their office suite that says something to the effect of “come in”.  Are they going to change their mind based on your two cents?  Unlikely, but if enough people contribute . . .  My point is that if I were on the fence about voicing my opinion to congress, the above would definately make me think twice, which is not the message that needs to be going out.
    Second, “Too bad there’s nobody out there REALLY looking out for the kids . . . ” – Umm, did you not previously mention that the USDA representative was not happy about the decision?  Did the UDSA not make the original choice to up the serving?  This statement breeds dicontent towards the officials that DO care and are trying to do what they can to improve the situation.  But sadly, as this shows, congress holds the strings and can overturn even good decision-making.  But let’s not throw daggers at our own side!

  • Brooke

    I’m quite saddened by this post – but it does not have anything to do with tomato servings.
    Firstly,  “(Don’t you wish that the rest of us could have Congress’s ear as well?)” – What a way to rally the troops!  I mean, if enough constituents feel a certain way and make it known, their representative WILL listen.  Furthermore, you (yes, YOU reading this) can either write, CALL or even drop into your representative’s office.  Most of them have a little sign outside their office suite that says something to the effect of “come in”.  Are they going to change their mind based on your two cents?  Unlikely, but if enough people contribute . . .  My point is that if I were on the fence about voicing my opinion to congress, the above would definately make me think twice, which is not the message that needs to be going out.
    Second, “Too bad there’s nobody out there REALLY looking out for the kids . . . ” – Umm, did you not previously mention that the USDA representative was not happy about the decision?  Did the UDSA not make the original choice to up the serving?  This statement breeds dicontent towards the officials that DO care and are trying to do what they can to improve the situation.  But sadly, as this shows, congress holds the strings and can overturn even good decision-making.  But let’s not throw daggers at our own side!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kenleebow Ken Leebow

    After I researched the American food system, I got mad. This pizza debacle is just one example of thousands that should motivate people to get mad.I’ve written 101 Incredible Diet, Health, and Lifestyle Tips … Tip #60 is …60. Get mad, get motivated! The American food system is a mess. While most accept it and “go with the flow”, it is the cause of many diseases. After much research, I got mad. That was my motivation for changing my lifestyle. In fact, the original title of my book was: The Pissed Off Diet. I’m still pissed. It amazes me how horrific the American food system is. If you want more free tips, come visit … http://bit.ly/u2GHl9

    • enough is enough

      Getting mad is one piss-poor approach to changing things, but it seems Ken has outdone himself – he has gone mad. Obviously just a ranting, complaining fool who doesn’t know enough about nutrition science to stick in his butt. I could list 101 things about Ken and his ilk that certify they are lunatics on the loose. Confusing foods with nutrition is up around number 2. Expressing their asinine maniacal amateur food opinions in public is probably number 1 on the list. Cram it Ken.

  • Evelinyte

    It is rediculuos what children are being fed everyday and not only that it’s bad for them, this is the diet they continue leading. Their whole lives they will think eating pizza is good for them because the country fails to teach them otherwise.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    I’m not sure the big deal being made. I have a pizza plant growing in my garden.

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  • Jordan

    Wouldn’t tomato paste be a fruit?  Man, I am so confused these days…

  • Dirtswife

    I thought it was the parents job to look out for the children.  Are we not the ones that should be feeding them?  If we do not like the school lunches, then do not buy them. If we don’t buy the lunches, the program looses money, and that will hurt them.  They will make nescessary changes to get us, the consumer to buy from them again.   My children take a sack lunch everyday.  I teach them how to create balanced meals.  It is not the governments job to teach my children how to eat healthy.  It is my job.  As parents we need to stop relying on the government to do our jobs. 

    • jnwalsh1

      I do the same (talk about nutrition at home, pack lunches, etc.)…however, I and you need to realize that 1) not all parents care about nutrition and happily live on junk foods themselves, 2) not all parents are able, for whatever reason, to provide/pack better foods for their kids’ meals away from home and 3) public education is far too often underfunded and therefore vulnerable to sketchy things like corporate advertising that pays for supplies (and food/snacks that are provided to students…both this blog and Weighty Matters cite myriad examples of Pizza Hut, to name one, putting its logo on materials that are used to “teach” students or holding fundraisers to benefit the school at their restaurants.  So for kids who fall into the first two categories and parents who are, for whatever reason, ignorant or unconcerned with healthy eating, school provided meals are one occasion where a child *could* get a meal that *isn’t* a pile of saturated fat, sugar products, preservatives and artificial flavors/colors.  The government is far too susceptible to the influence peddlers/big food lobbies/crop lobbies and that hand in their pockets trickles down to what ends up on our tables at home (if we so choose) and on our kids’ lunch trays (again, you and I choose *not* to but for others, there really isn’t so much thought or opportunity to the issue).  You and I both know there are millions of children in the US who’ve never eaten a fresh vegetable and only eat fruit in the form of jelly spread on Wonder Bread with a glob of peanut butter that has unnecessary sugar, salt, canola oil, molasses and palm oil added to it…public schools are funded by our taxes and our lawmakers are bowing to corporate interests rather than public ones when it comes to the food they provide.

  • foodguru

    People really need to realize that this article makes a good point, and brings up others. The Dairy producers of America have come up the logo, 3 a Day, but we really don’t need that much. And kids these days are extremely obese and if we don’t start somewhere meaningful, like school where kids eat every day, then the rate will never go down. This is a starting point and we need to look out for the kids and adults being trapped by the misleading food labels and advertisements. People don’t need to just read labels, but research and understand what they really are talking about! It’s so frustrating when people act like they know everything about food but really don’t understand the importance of eating healthy and the long term effects of not.

  • William

    Fine for spoiled grownups to wrangle over the nutritive qualities of pizza and whether tomatoes are a fruit or a vegetable. But we’re talking about pizza here, people, that’s something kids will actually eat and extract some nourishment from. Unlike the bland gassy vegetables martyred anti-food adults insist we must restrict kids to eating…revolting crap kids will scrape into the trash barrel, for a net nutritive gain of exactly zero. I think the dumbest kid in these schools is brighter than the smartest foodie on this blog.

    • jnwalsh1

      I don’t think you’re going to find a whole lot of nourishment in school cafeteria grade pizza.  Kids *will* eat it but what does that prove? You’re missing the point entirely: No one’s saying kids should be restricted to “bland gassy vegetables”; rather, that provided meals *could* absolutely be better quality and also that big foods’ ability to control what appears on our plates (at home and in our schools) is concerning.

  • CT

    “…to double the amount of tomato paste that would count as a vegetable serving from 2 tablespoons to half a cup. “  

    There are 16 tablespoons in a cup, (so 4 tablespoons in a quarter cup).  Going from 2 Tablespoons to a HALF-CUP is actually QUADRUPLING the tomato paste, not doubling.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=725525204 Jim Cooper

    Good article, but there is no such thing as a “sugar high.” This has been demonstrated experimentally time after time. But pizza as a vegetable is just an embarrassment!

  • Anonymous

    I grew up in a big Ukrainian family where we (seriously!) considered dill pickles to be a vegetable course.  That pickle plus cole slaw (covered with mayo, of course) were the only veggies to grace our plates of cabbage rolls, perogies, homemade bread and butter, and garlic kielbasa, all served with a big side of sour cream and fried bacon. Mmmmmmmm…..

    We cannot assume that all parents are smart enough to be the wise arbiters of what their children should and shouldn’t be eating. (Consider the mom I watched recently pouring Coke into her infant’s bottle at the Minneapolis airport).

    And now, we cannot assume that the members of the U.S. Congress are smart enough, either.

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