It's Not a Vegetable. It's DiGiorno!
With an approval rating lower than some venereal diseases, and a hot-steaming pile of “super committee” to deal with, you'd think Congress would pick and choose the laws going through its docket to avoid incensing an increasingly frustrated public. Last week's decreeing of pizza as a vegetable, then, may be construed either as a deliberate attempt to distract from more pressing issues, or one more example that Congress may not be having its best days currently. (Now, Congress didn't so much outright decree pizza a vegetable as changed how tomato sauce is credited in terms of nutritional value, but we are willing to forego nitpicking for the sake of semantics, in the selfless interest of a better story.) It all began with an initiative from the Obama administration and the USDA aimed at filling students' plates with healthier foods, such as fruits and whole grains and removing sodium and saturated fat. It was meant to address the second leading cause of preventable deaths in our nation, obesity. Congress has now stepped in with a new spending bill that would deny funding of healthier school lunches and introduced new standards, according to which, two tablespoons of tomato paste would now qualify as a servings of vegetables. Effectively, as we chose to interpret it, declaring pizza a vegetable. Congress is said to have acted primarily to counteract what it saw as an excessive financial burden placed on strapped school districts by the proposal of the Obama administration. According to them, the $6.8 billion price tag of revamping the school meal program, by including double the amount of fruits and vegetables, would cripple cash poor districts. It is an objection that USDA has already counteracted by arguing that the money saved with the new standards would be far less than the $7 billion congress estimates it would save. Where is Congress getting these numbers or the incentive to act? The biggest supporters of its bill are the American Frozen Food Institute and the National Potato Council (the bill also reinstates the sullied honor of the French fry along with frozen pizzas). What effect does this have? With the rules of nutrition valuation cracked wide open, can other classes of previously second-class citizens of the food world get their chance at limelight? There may be love still for carrot cake, funyons and candy corn.
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