Pizza is a vegetable? Focus your anger, people.

by Patricia Eddy on November 17, 2011

My apologies in advance. This post is highly political and opinionated, and if you’re not the type to like those things, please stop reading now. I’ll have a new recipe for you on Monday of next week for a Chili Mole.

The twitterverse has been all up in arms over tweets like this, from Mark Bittman.

@bittman Stupid, corrupt Congress declares pizza a vegetable. I mean, really folks: http://t.co/OcW8uy8i

Technically folks, that’s not what happened. What actually happened was that Congress maintained that the amount of tomato sauce/paste that goes into a slice of pizza constitutes a serving of vegetables.

Now, I am NOT saying that pizza is healthy. I am NOT saying that Congress did a good thing here. I mean, take a look at what the bill did. From MSNBC.

The final version of a spending bill released late Monday would unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year, which included limiting the use of potatoes on the lunch line and delaying limits on sodium and delaying a requirement to boost whole grains.

But focus your anger, people. Take a step back and look at what you’re getting angry about. I’ve seen little to no discussion on the actual specifics of this bill. All I see is people upset that “pizza is a vegetable”. Well, you know what? Pizza has been considered a serving of vegetables for quite some time. What this bill did is to maintain that standard. Again… the actual bill doesn’t even mention pizza! It talks about tomato sauce. In January, the USDA tried to change the rules. They wanted the amount of tomato sauce/paste that counted as a vegetable to be 1/2 a cup, not 1/8 of a cup. This bill ignores that suggestion and maintains the status quo. It keeps the amount of tomato sauce that makes a vegetable serving at 1/8 of a cup – the amount on a slice of pizza. If they served pasta with 1/8 of a cup of tomato sauce, that would also count as a serving of vegetables. If they served mozzarella sticks with 1/8 of a cup of tomato sauce for dipping, that would be a serving of vegetables.

We’ll ignore the fact that tomatoes are technically a fruit, from a botanical standpoint, as the Supreme Court did rule that they be considered a vegetable for the purposes of importing.

Of course tomato sauce on pizza isn’t a healthy serving of vegetables.  French fries aren’t healthy either. Neither are chicken nuggets. Hell, the green bean and cream of mushroom soup casserole that my grandmother made for Thanksgiving wasn’t healthy in the least and that contained a serving of vegetables. But saying that “this bill declared pizza a vegetable” is just totally inaccurate. No one, not even the frozen pizza lobby thinks that there is a magical pizza plant on which grow slices of pepperoni, ripe for the picking.

I absolutely believe that there needs to be massive school lunch reform.  I believe that too many children are overweight because they don’t have the opportunity to have a healthy school lunch and don’t have the financial resources or education to pack a healthy lunch. I believe that Congress should eat school lunches for a month and see if they think it’s healthy. I believe that 1/8 of a cup of tomato sauce/paste is too small to be a vegetable. I believe that Congress should be held accountable for bowing to what appears to be massive pressure from the frozen pizza lobby (the hell???? there’s a frozen pizza lobby????). But let’s be accurate here, people. Get upset because the phasing in of more whole grains was delayed. Get upset because sodium limits weren’t approved. Get upset because the use of potatoes wasn’t limited. Get upset because you want the serving size of tomato sauce to be larger. Get upset because a business that makes what is essentially junk food could lobby Congress over school lunches in the first place. But don’t keep repeating this one sound bite that is technically inaccurate.

I know that repeating this sound bite is catchy. I know it is a way to get readers. I know it is a way to drum up some outrage. But the political arena is full of inaccuracies from both sides of the aisle and that’s part of the problem these days. So if you’re going to get mad, get mad with the facts, please.

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{ 5 comments }

Bill F November 17, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I’m one of many who retweeted Bittman. And while I can’t speak for anyone else, I happened to recognize the tweet was essentially a soundbite. However, it got me to read about the bill, and it got me upset that the bill has every appearance of not doing anything to make school lunches healthier. I don’t give a fried rat about pizza being a vegetable–that’s ludicrous–but I do give a little more than a fried rat about the opportunity cost of a chance to make school lunches healthier. If the soundbite serves the purpose of getting people to read more about the bill and what it is (or in this case isn’t?) doing, then maybe the means justifies the ends in this case.

And exactly, “the hell??? there’s a frozen pizza lobby???”. I think I need to find out if there’s a BBQ sauce lobby.

Patricia Eddy November 17, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I do agree that sometimes sound bites can spur people to action. But there are too few people who will click through and read the whole article. I think that’s the biggest issue.

Jay F November 17, 2011 at 1:50 pm

“the hell???? there’s a frozen pizza lobby????” Oh yes, most certainly. Most notably ConAgra and Schwan, which “have quietly helped to finance the “Coalition for Sustainable School Meals Programs”" (http://motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2011/11/school-lunch-frozen-pizza-tomato-paste).

Information about lobbying efforts and spending:
ConAgra: http://influenceexplorer.com/organization/conagra-foods/bac53ad942704ecdb4c8e851c111c8a8?cycle=2012
Schwan: http://influenceexplorer.com/organization/schwan-food/20d08ba810044c508e2dc9eeee1a2ab3

dave November 18, 2011 at 12:07 am

During Jamie Oliver’s campaign to raise awareness about the quality of school meals in the uk, he asked many children where they think different food items come from. One poor kid actually thought that lettuce were fabricated in super markets. Pretty mad and hard to believe for a country boy like me, but a worrying sign for those children destined to have a poor upbringing in urban sprawl.

Deb November 20, 2011 at 1:48 am

Jamie Oliver has had 2 years working in the US. The first year he tried to change a town on the east coast and the 2nd he made waves in LA school district. Amazing shows!

We’ve been hoodwinked by ‘progress’, but that was years ago when processed foods became readily available and supermarkets grew into the giant mazes we have now. Instead of the processed food making our lives easier, as promised, they have caused a couple of generations to grow up with nutritionally deficient education and meals.

We get fatter as do the wallets of those who can figure out how to process cheaper – never mind the quality. It’s time we woke up and learned where our food is really coming from. And then, it’s time to do something about it.

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