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Pizza as vegetable

Published November 24, 2011 11:30 pm

Congress zaps school lunch rules
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Who says this Congress is deadlocked? Just give them a common enemy and the politicians in Washington can play nice and agree, thank you very much.

The trouble is that the common enemy that galvanized action by members of the House and Senate is .... healthy food in school lunches. That's right. The final version of the latest spending bill halts policy changes made by the Agriculture Department to limit starchy and salty foods and require that more whole grains be offered to children at school.

The proposed changes would have been the first in 15 years to the $11 billion school lunch program. The aim of the new Agriculture Department guidelines was to reduce childhood obesity by adding more fruits and green vegetables to lunch menus.

But, in one of their rare united efforts, members of Congress, which now has a nationwide approval rating of 9 percent, stood firm: No more healthy foods in school lunches. Not gonna happen.

After potato growers, salt producers and manufacturers of frozen pizza lobbied members of Congress, both the Republican House and the Democratic Senate dismantled the new rules. Republicans in the House avoided the subjects of childhood obesity and nutrition altogether and concentrated their objections on the "over-reaching of government into the lives of Americans."

So now we are condoning high-fat, high-salt menu items in schools as health food.

French fries, for example, were high on the list of favored foods, thanks to the potato lobby.

No matter that more children are overweight or obese now than ever before, and that carrying around too much weight is contributing to a record number of cases of childhood diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Recalling the Ronald Reagan administration, when the Agriculture Department famously designated ketchup a vegetable so schools could serve fewer actual fruits and vegetables, Congress now wants schools to consider pizza a vegetable because, well, it has tomato paste on it, doesn't it?

The vote makes Congress more laughable at home and even less credible in the world. As The Daily Mail in London put it, when it poked fun at the reversal: "[America] has given us the iced doughnut, the burger and the fattest people on Earth."

American children are fatter than ever, but while they compromise their health with poor nutrition, members of Congress blithely attend to the interests of industry donors.