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Saving School Pizza

In January the Agriculture department had this crazy idea to improve nutritional standards for federally-subsidized school lunches. It proposed limiting "starchy vegetables" (read: fries) to one cup per week "to encourage students to try new vegetables." It also proposed changing the way schools met daily requirements for fruits and vegetables by limiting--not eliminating, merely limiting--the use of tomato paste (read: pizza) to meet that requirement. Now a House-Senate conference committee has nixed both changes, ignoring, among others, 100 retired generals and admirals who said that disallowing the rule would undermine military readiness because the leading medical disqualifier for recruitment is obesity. The American Frozen Food Institute applauds Congress for "providing school nutritionists with the ability to serve healthy foods kids enjoy while avoiding burdening schools with massive new costs."

This is all quite reminiscent of the famous 1981 controversy in which the Agriculture department, faced with cuts to the school lunch program, proposed crediting ketchup as a vegetable. Agriculture secretary John Block didn't help his case when he clarified that "ketchup in combination with other things was classified as a vegetable." Asked what other things he had in mind, Block said, "French fries or hamburgers." A public furor quickly persuaded the Reagan administration to back down. Thirty years later, Congress no longer even pretends to care more about the welfare of children than about the processed-food lobby.

Nor is the federal government any better today than it was back in 1981 at telling the difference between fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes aren't vegetables. They're fruit, stupid.