Heard on the Hill: Kids, Eat Your Vegetables!

Posted November 13, 2011 at 4:36pm

Maybe it was just a matter of time before pizza became the political weapon of choice. But that appears to be what is afoot, at least according to a tipster at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The center is concerned that pro-pizza lawmakers will insist that the appropriations minibus, which both chambers are on tap to approve this week, contain language that would prevent the Agriculture Department, which tells schools what foods count as what in their lunch programs, to allow pizza to be counted as a vegetable.

That cheer you just heard was the nation’s schoolchildren, who would be able to cast aside their greens and carrots in favor of … pizza.

“Reminds me of [how] the Reagan Administration [tried] to credit ketchup as a vegetable in school lunch,” Margo Wootan, director for nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tells HOH in an email.

So, to be clear, several lawmakers are demanding pizza take its place among the healthiest vegetables in the vegetable kingdom.

This may confuse some who have never considered pizza a vegetable. Let us explain:

Most pizzas (let’s not get into white pizzas and pesto pizzas) served in schools use tomato paste.

HOH figures that someone out there can argue tomato paste is a healthy vegetable if one ignores the fact that tomatoes are fruit and that tomato paste has a decent amount of salt and sugar in it.

Also, most pizzas are made with cheese and bread, which are delicious but sadly are not vegetables, either.

It seems the USDA is considering a change in dietary guidelines for the school lunch program, which would require that tomato paste be credited by volume, not by concentration. (As an aside: Does no one care that tomatoes, whatever their concentration, are not, in fact, vegetables?)

“Tomato paste contributes dietary fiber and Potassium — a nutrient of concern for children — as well as Vitamins A & C,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) wrote to the USDA in June. “It is delivered to kids in popular school menu items they enjoy eating.

“By changing the crediting, many tomato-based foods and salsa-applications would no longer be factored into the weekly requirement of vegetables,” she continued.

Coincidently, Minnesota-based Schwan’s Frozen Food Company, which advertises itself as “a leader in the $9.5 billion school foodservice industry” holds a “70 percent market share in the pizza category.”

The pizza-hungry children of America await an answer.