Pizza = Congress’s Favorite Vegetable
|November 21, 2011||Posted by Lauren under Public Health Rambles|
Congress may not have solved our debt crises yet, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been busy – busy over-ruling proposed changes to school nutrition requirements that would have helped make them healthier.
I’m sure most of you have heard the news by now. But if you’re like me and
get all your news from SNL’s Weekend Update are sometimes a little slow on the uptake, you may have missed the latest controversy over pizza being declared as a vegetable by our admirable Congress. A fact so completely ridiculous, that it seems just made for a comedy skit.
Click here to view on Hulu.com (if the above video doesn’t work).
Okay, so Congress didn’t really make some crazy declaration that pizza is now considered a vegetable. What they did do, however, was vote against new USDA guidelines in the agriculture appropriations bill that would have increased the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables in school cafeterias and decreased the amount of pizza and french fries. And in doing so, they asserted the belief that a quarter cup of tomato paste is considered a serving of vegetables. Because apparently tomato paste (on it’s own) has lots of nutrients in it.
So when you take that paste, mix it with other ingredients, and put it on a pizza loaded with cheese and pepperoni, you can rest easy knowing that you are still getting a nice serving of vegetables. Add to that my second favorite vegetable – french fries deep fried in oil (they’re made of potatoes after all!) and you’ve got a well-rounded lunch.
Don’t get me wrong. I love pizza. A lot. It’s one of my favorite ways to carbo-load or refuel after a hard run. And I also know there are ways to make pizza healthier – whole grain crust, limited cheese, and lots of veggies are all positive changes you can make to your standard pie to up the nutritional value. But is the pizza served in most school cafeterias “healthy?” Not based on these ingredients:
(From the Huffington Post)
That’s hardly even recognizable as food.
There are those (like Congress, apparently) who don’t really think this is such a big deal. After all, kids are going to eat what they like, right? You can’t force them to eat fresh foods and vegetables because you make it more available. If a kid wants pizza, he’s going to eat pizza.
Without going into the behavior debate, I will simply say that the argument presented above misses the point entirely. In my mind, why this is such a big deal is twofold:
1.) It is a step in the complete opposite direction that this country needs to be heading. Obesity among children is a very real problem. It’s not just about having a little bit of extra weight on you – it’s about a medical condition that impacts your health. It’s about an epidemic that has led to the predictions that this generation of children will be the first to have shorter life expectancies than their parents (source). 17% of U.S. children between the ages of 2 and 17 are obese. Not just overweight, but obese. This number has tripled since 1980 and particularly affects children of low income families (families who the school lunch programs are put in place to serve) (Source).
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2.) It is a sickening example of how money drives decisions, not interest in the public good. Apparently big food companies didn’t like what they were going to lose if this bill had been passed. As of November 1st, the food industry had spent $5.6 million lobbying against the proposal (source). And in the end, that money spoke. Loud and clear. In a very well articulated article in the Huffington Post, Kristen Wartman writes (emphasis added):
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. We face this problem in public health all the time. Our government-funded and non-profit organizations can’t compete against the lobbyists from big food and beverage companies. We don’t have the money, the staff, or the reach (not to mention the fact that it’s illegal for government employees to actually lobby for things. Minor detail.). I guess I just would have expected more from a body that is supposed to be relying on expert advice to develop and enact laws, not money from corporate lobbyists.
For further reading, I would actually encourage you to read the entire article in the Huffington Post, as well as the other articles she has linked to.
And for some comic relief, please see Marion Nestle’s post.
And now, as always, I want to know what you think. Bad decision by Congress? Or something the media (and this blog) is blowing out of proportion?