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Posted at 08:47 AM ET, 11/16/2011

Bill would label pizza a vegetable in school lunches

If you put nutritious broccoli and kale on top of a chocolate-glazed donut, can the concoction be considered equivalent to a vegetable serving?

This is the same logic that Congress is about to incorporate into a new law as it gets ready to vote on legislation that would, among other things, allow public schools to count a small amount tomato paste that is put on top of pizzas to be counted as a vegetable.

The legislation is a spending bill that in part takes aim at standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year to make school lunches healthier amid an obesity epidemic among young people. The standards, based on recommendations from the National Institute of Medicine, included restricting the amount of starchy potatoes that could be served to kids each week, as well as the amount of sodium.

But Congress knows better than medical professionals — or, at least, is more interested in making potato growers happy — and, therefore, the bill will delay or block these and other proposed standards.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Remember the controversy in the 1980s when the Reagan administration sought to have ketchup labeled a vegetable? That went over like a lead balloon, but somehow, this latest effort isn’t getting quite the same intense backlash.

As it is now, a serving of pizza can be considered a vegetable if it has at least two tablespoons of tomato sauce. The Agriculture Department wanted to change the rule to up the amount of tomato paste to at least half a cup.

It should be said that raw tomatoes are nutritious, and research has shown that some tomato-based cooked products are too. That is not, however, the same as saying that a little bit of tomato paste on top of pizza dough constitutes a vegetable serving.

Agriculture Department spokeswoman Courtney Rowe was understated in this statement:

“While it’s unfortunate that some members of Congress continue to put special interests ahead of the health of America’s children, USDA remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals.”

What’s really going on is that Congress is putting on a rather shameful display of catering to corporate interests, giving kids a real lesson in how politics works — and how, in the end, it’s not really all about the kids.

Next time you hear a legislator talk about how it’s “all for the children,” ask them how they voted on this bill. This exercise in lawmaking should be taught in civics classes everywhere so young people can really understand who this Congress is — and isn’t — working for.

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By  |  08:47 AM ET, 11/16/2011

 
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