What’s in a name? Well quite a lot when it comes to designating which foods will be served at lunchtime in America’s schools. Under pressure from the frozen foods industry, US lawmakers have decided to allow pizza sauce to be counted as a vegetable.
Pizza and French fries are among the foods which will stay on the menu after Congress voted to prevent them being restricted. The decision – which is a kick in the teeth to President Obama’s hopes of making schools meals healthier – could be approved later this week.
Republicans in favour of the decision have lauded it as a victory over big government, praising the defeat of ‘overly burdensome and costly regulations’, hailing ‘greater flexibility for local school districts’.
Unsurprisingly, industry lobby the American Frozen Food Institute has come out in support of the move, saying the decision ‘recognises the significant amounts of potassium, fibre and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste and ensures that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta.’
But according to Margo Wootan, Director of Nutrition Policy at the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, this ruling puts pizza manufacturers ahead of kids’ nutrition. In her opinion ‘Pepperoni pizza is not a vegetable.’
So why has Congress said that the sauce on a pizza is enough to put a slice of Pepperoni on a par with asparagus? According to Ms Wootan, it’s all down to a ‘loophole’ which, although usually determining a serving of vegetables as 8 tablespoons, sets the amount as just 2 – which is what you will find on a slice of pizza. She says the vote shows ‘Congress basically stepped in to protect industry’s ability to continue to sell two of the most unhealthy foods in the school lunch program: pizza and French fries.’
Why is a slice of Pepperoni bad for kids? One slice provides roughly half of the saturated fats a teenager should eat per day (5 grams), not to mention the 280 calories in each slice.
With childhood obesity at epidemic levels in the US, 14% of adolescents who choose pizza as an alternative to vegetables may prove to be a smart move for the frozen foods industry, but not for America’s increasingly-diabetic youth.