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Lo and behold! Pizza: the new vegetable.

There are many ways in which the United States intrigues us all: from the hyper-proliferation of its pop culture, its Walmarts and its multiculturalism, to its delectable goods such as Ding Dongs and Ho Hos. Nothing however, has left us quite as baffled as the latest American concoction: pizza as an institutionalized vegetable.

Whilst America continues to lose its battle against childhood obesity, the US Congress voted last week to rebuke certain guidelines of an agriculture appropriations bill proposed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The proposed guidelines would have set stricter parameters in defining pizza as an equivalent vegetable serving.

The attempted guideline changes were to require that, for a pizza slice to qualify as a vegetable, there needed to be a half-cup of tomato sauce on each slice. The idea behind the USDA asking for a half-cup was to try to dissuade schools from serving pizza. Instead, Congress declared on November 17th that pizza will continue to qualify as a vegetable so long as it contains only 2 spoonfuls of tomato paste on it- less than what was ever required before.

Additionally, the USDA proposed that federally funded school cafeterias cut back on potatoes and french fries, while adding more variety to the fresh fruit and vegetable alternatives and limiting the amount of salt used in meals. USDA officials claim that these proposals are meant to reduce rising childhood obesity in the United States, as obesity now affects 17% of all children and adolescents in the US – triple the rate of the previous generation, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention official government website.

But why would Congress deliberately antagonize state efforts to fulfil the nutritional interests of children across the nation? Thank the trade association who had lobbied against Congress, which includes frozen food industrial giants such as Schwan, ConAgra, and the well-known french fry maker McCain LTD. These frozen food kings feared that the new guidelines would serve as a financial threat as they lost their school cafeteria customers. The lobbyists argued that these new guidelines would raise the cost of meals and would require cafeterias to serve food that too many children would refuse out of preference. According to the New York Times1 these food companies have  thus far spent more than $5.6 million lobbying against the proposed changes since they were first introduced earlier this year.

In what should be a matter of serving the nutritional interest of America’s youth, the end result of this bill proves the American government to be another slave to capitalism and corporations; The USDA’s original proposal to have wholesome, healthy alternatives to compete with their chicken nuggets, frozen food, and french fries simply does not suit these companies. Business is business.

However, what is one’s grand disappointment is another’s gain… “It’s an important victory,” Corey Henry, spokesman for the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI), told Reuters. Other anti-obesity campaign groups, such as the American anti-obesity group Mission, have so eloquently cited that “’It doesn’t take an advanced degree in nutrition to call this a national disgrace”.

The entire situation seems more than reminiscent of the highly criticized and ridiculed attempt by the Reagan administration to classify ketchup as a vegetable to cut federal costs on subsidized school meals over 30 years ago. After the passing of this revised bill, fallacious logic still perseveres.

For those of you who will forever scoff at the newly institutionalized vegetable that is pizza, don’t be surprised if other additions are added to our understanding of the Food Pyramid. The next possible addition? According to Fox News commentator Meagyn Kelly, pepper spray “is, like, a derivative of actual pepper… So it’s a food product essentially”.

– Linda Sarvi

1NIXON, RON. “School Lunch Proposals Set Off a Dispute – NYTimes.com.”The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., 1 Nov. 2011. Web. 25 Nov. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/02/us/school-lunch-proposals-set-off-a-dispute.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all>.

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