No vegetable status for pizza at lunch time

12/05/2011 08:31:00 AM
Tom Stenzel

Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce AssociationIt has been a long road working to improve the quality of school lunches. 

For several years, United Fresh has worked with committees at the National Academy of Sciences, members of Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

When Congress finally passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, we finally hit the milestone where USDA began writing new regulations for school meals.

Earlier this year USDA put out a draft proposed rule, and has received more than 100,000 comments in response. 

By and large, it was a great rule for fruits and vegetables, seeking to bring schools’ meals into alignment with the dietary guidelines. 

But of course we saw some things like the potato guidelines that needed to be fixed. 

That’s why government agencies issue proposed rules in the first place, rather than final regulations. 

The give-and-take in rulemaking is critical, and something, I might add, we can certainly expect for the new Food and Drug Administration-proposed food safety rules when they come out.

But who would have foreseen the heavy-handed political deal seeking to protect tomato paste on a pizza? The outrage across the country at this move was predictable, just as the “ketchup is a vegetable” scandal proved years ago. 

Media reported that here was yet another sign of Washington insiders pulling strings to thwart the goals of public health, putting corporate wealth ahead of children’s health. 

The story reverberated across the national media and late-night talk shows, and even made it to a skit on “Saturday Night Live.”

You know you’ve touched the public consciousness when you’re ridiculed on SNL!

I have to admit, I was outraged too until I started to talk with friends who work in school foodservice, nutrition and public health. 

Courtesy United Fresh Produce AssociationPizza will still be served on school cafeteria lunch lines, but with fruits and vegetables, not as a vegetable.They told me to relax — that this issue had probably done more to motivate school boards, school foodservice leaders and, of course, moms and dads to reject business as usual and redouble their efforts to drive fresh, healthy school meals. 

A little parent outrage goes a long way.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good pizza — especially with lots of fresh mushrooms, onions, peppers and even some sausage thrown in. 

But my goodness — you don’t have to be a public health advocate to know these people overplayed their hand. 

Pizza will continue to have a place in schools, with a vegetable not instead of one. 


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