Dietary Counseling and Consultations

What's in the News

A New Kind Of Vegetable?

Published December 22nd, 2011 in What's in the News

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD

On many evenings I listen to NPR news while driving part of the way home, this means twice a week I hear the news and invariably it takes me the rest of the week to get my blood pressure under control. This last Tuesday I learned the reasons why one should not be drinking hot beverages while driving and listening to the news.

As I navigated down the road, I heard the following statement, “Who needs leafy greens and carrots when pizza and french fries will do?” at this point I was drawing warm liquid in and promptly shot it out my nose onto the steering wheel, as a burst of laughter took me, before I realized the reporter was serious. !

The NPR reporter went on to say – “The final version of a spending bill released late Monday would unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year.  The bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable, as it is now. USDA had wanted to only count a half-cup of tomato paste or more as a vegetable, and a serving of pizza has less than that.”

Now I know –  I am somewhat of a “health” food nut job, but really are we still wasting tax payers money and time during this economically challenging times discussing whether pizza and French fries count as healthy vegetables for our kids to be eating? And every nutrition blog site on the web is going on about the absurdity of it and it’s reminiscent of the Reagan administration’s attempt 30 years ago to classify ketchup as a vegetable to cut costs.  As much as many regard President Regan with high esteem, even his administration made a few blunders. (send all hate mail to the editors)

One of the major differences this time around is the power of the food industry lobbyists, paid hundreds of thousands to promote an industry agenda regardless of the common sense of the matter. This time around, food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers  are pushing the changes in Congress. “School meals that are subsidized by the federal government must include a certain amount of vegetables, and USDA’s proposal could have pushed pizza-makers and potato growers out of the school lunch business.” Do they really believe it is necessary to reclassify Pizza and French fries in order to secure their profit margin?

According to the NPR article and several other news sites, “some conservatives argue that the federal government shouldn’t tell children what to eat.” I agree it is called responsible parenting, these foods were reserved for special occasions when I was a teen in the 80’s, they were costly and understood to be an indulgence by my working parents. My husband’s homemade lunches were so horrible, he had a waiting list of classmates who wanted to buy it from him. And our son, was terribly abused, he was forst to learn to eat real food too.

In a summary of the bill, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said the changes would “prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and …provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals.” Once again why is this not a matter for local school board to decide, not the federal government?

“The Senate last month voted to block the potato limits in its version, with opposition to the restrictions led by potato-growing states. Neither version of the bill included the latest provisions on tomato paste, sodium or whole grains; House and Senate negotiators added those in the last two weeks as they put finishing touches on the legislation.” The really sad part about all this is the dumbing down of our nations children through poor nutrition that ultimately leads to skyrocketing healthcare costs and early death.

Nutrition advocate Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said  of Congress, “They are making sure that two of the biggest problems in the school lunch program, pizza and french fries, are untouched,” and a  group of retired generals advocating for healthier school lunches also criticized the spending bill.

The group, called Mission: Readiness, has called poor nutrition in school lunches a national security issue because obesity is the leading medical disqualifier for military service.

“We are outraged that Congress is seriously considering language that would effectively categorize pizza as a vegetable in the school lunch program,” Amy Dawson Taggart, the director of the group, said in a letter to lawmakers before the final bill was released. “It doesn’t take an advanced degree in nutrition to call this a national disgrace.”

Amen to that – and I do have an advanced degree in nutrition.

According to online news sources, the bill would:

“— Block the Agriculture Department from limiting starchy vegetables, including corn and peas, to two servings a week. The rule was intended to cut down on french fries, which many schools serve daily.

— Allow USDA to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable, as it does now. The department had attempted to require that only a half-cup of tomato paste could be considered a vegetable. Federally subsidized lunches must have a certain number of vegetables to be served.

— Require further study on long-term sodium reduction requirements set forth by the USDA guidelines.

— Require USDA to define “whole grains” before they regulate them. The USDA rules require schools to use more whole grains.

Food companies who have fought the USDA standards say they were too strict and neglected the nutrients that potatoes, other starchy vegetables and tomato paste do offer. (And what do these foods do for the obesity, diabetes and cholesterol epidemic in our youth?)

The school lunch provisions are part of a final House-Senate compromise on a $182 billion measure that would fund the day-to-day operations of the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. ”