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If Pizza is a Vegetable, Beer Should be a Grain

Congress pushes to keep pizza a vegetable. Meanwhile, kids stay fat.

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Child eating pizza.There’s something completely wrong with this. 

Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is okay with the fact that pizza sauce—cooked tomatoes, sugar, salt, and preservatives—counts as a serving of vegetables when it comes to school lunches. They do say, however, that schools are relying on pizza and the sauce on top to cover the bases of the food pyramid.

The problem though, is that many of the elected leaders of our country don’t want to change that.

The Obama Administration wants to improve the health of children by improving school lunches, but a bill in Congress would block the USDA from instituting new guidelines that would require whole grains, while scaling back the amount of starchy vegetables (like potatoes) and skim down the salt content of the foods.

Yeah, they want schools to think that French fries and Tater Tots aren’t as healthy as other vegetables. The nerve, I tell ya.

The bill to block the change was part of—to no surprise—a spending bill. Republicans wanted to stop the change in improving school lunches because it would cost too much.

Right now, schools can serve pizza and call it a vegetable. How American.

Now, I’m no farmer, but I thought vegetables were those things that filled up fields all over the country. If pizza is a vegetable, do they grow on trees or underground?

Now, I’m no doctor, but I think the rising epidemic of diabetes and obesity, especially in children, is one thing we should actively work to combat. Scaling back the amount of nutritionless food we serve our kids could be a good start.

The largest supplier of food for school lunches—ConAgra Foods, Inc.—told the Wall Street Journal that it objects to the plan to discount pizza as a vegetable because it understates the amount of tomato products actually consumed.

Now, I’m no financial expert, but I know ConAgra has a significant hold on the American food market through its many brand names, and it could lose a lot of money if schools stopped getting credit for pizza as a vegetable and stopped serving it at every meal. That’s probably why food industry lobbyists were pushing so hard to scrap Obama’s overhaul of the public school lunch program.

Let’s take a look at the nutritional value of one serving (one-quarter cup) of ConAgra’s products, Hunt’s Basil, Garlic & Oregano pizza sauce:

  • 15 percent of your daily sodium
  • 4 percent of your daily fiber
  • 2 percent of vitamin A
  • 2 percent of vitamin C

Now, I’m no nutritionalist, but I thought tomatoes were supposed to be high in vitamins, especially vitamin C. And if my memory serves me correctly, I never, ever got ¼ of a cup of pizza sauce on my school lunch pizza. It was mostly cheese and bread.

Then again, under current USDA guidelines for schoolchildren, one-eighth of a cup of tomato paste equates to the same nutritional value as half a cup of vegetables, or one vegetable serving.

Now, I’m no mathematician, but that doesn’t seem to add up at all. That's like saying grape Kool-Aid is the same as grape juice. 

Now, I’m no chef, but my professional cooking experience taught me that when you take fresh vegetables and put them through intense heat and processing, it kills the majority of the nutritional value, especially when you pack it full of salt.

Now, I’m no parent, but for three years I volunteered with kids that relied heavily on their school lunches, as their parents were often too poor to supply them with daily lunches. Many of them counted their school lunch as their major meal of the day, so if their schools and government is telling them that pizza is a vegetable, who is responsible to tell them otherwise?

Now, I’m no genius, but I have some common sense and it seems that, once again, the financial interest of some are trumping the overall good of others.

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Tags: Public Health & Policy

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About the Author

Brian Krans is an Assistant Editor and writer at Healthline.com.

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