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Nutrition Turned Upside Down and Backwards: Pizza is the New Vegetable

In the fashion world, you often hear “pink is the new black” or “(insert color here) is the new black.” It’s because black is the basis of fashion – the standard, if you will. You can always count on black to be fashionable. It’s just right – in any situation.

You could very well say the thing about vegetables and nutrition. They are virtually never wrong. They are the basis – the standard – of good nutrition.

Well, according to Congress, who has betrayed American children’s health once again, “pizza is the new vegetable.”

Yes, you read that right. Pizza, for the purposes of school lunch programs, is now considered a vegetable . . . thanks to its meager swipe of tomato paste.

Wait . . . (side note) aren’t tomatoes considered fruit?

But really, who’s paying attention to details here? Details such as the fact that one in five American four-year-olds are obese. Not just overweight, but obese. I’m not even sure I knew what soda or pizza was when I was four years old, but judging by this statistic, there are plenty of youngsters out there that do. Or at least, their parents and possibly government-funded pre-schools do.

Lobby, Lobby, Lobby!

Congress’s decision is a slap face to the new guidelines the USDA put forth with the MyPlate initiative – revealed back in June of this year. Those guidelines called for an increase in the number of fresh fruits and vegetables served in school cafeterias, an increase the use of whole grains, and a reduction in starchy foods (potatoes; aka: French fries) and sodium.

Sounds rather pro-active and healthy, wouldn’t you say?

But apparently those types of guidelines put big corporations like ConAgra and Schwan in a very bad mood. Enough of a bad mood for them (and similar companies) to spend $5.6 million lobbying against the new rules.

It turns out their money was well spent. I mean, if you’re a big corporation, and you’re faced with losing out on massive sales that you get from school lunch programs, wouldn’t you do everything you could to save your ass even if it meant compromising the health of millions of American children – possibly even your own?

Oh wow, when you put it that way it kind of sounds like selling your soul to the devil . . .

Their argument must have been compelling, however, because Congress seemed to have no problem voting for the “pizza is a vegetable” premise.

And, the more conservative legislators added insult to injury by standing by their idea that the government should not be allowed to tell people what to eat . . . especially, apparently, if it’s healthy and for the overall good of the nation. Can’t you hear them now? “Bad Obama administration! Forget you, Michelle Obama, and your quest to get our children moving and active! We want a country where we can do whatever we want, eat whatever we want and get as morbidly obese as we want.”

The Implications

The implications, you ask? For starters, let’s revisit the obesity issue. If you haven’t heard, obesity can lead to all sorts of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, a diminished sex life, and has even been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s. Even those young adults who haven’t reached the level of obesity may be at risk for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), according to recent research.

Not to mention, of course, the ingredients other than tomato paste that go into the traditional school lunch pizza, including wheat gluten, which can lead to a whole host of problems itself. Oh, and can anyone say “cheese substitute”? As Kristin Wartman, writer for the Huffington Post says, when you beak it all down, “It’s not even pizza, much less a vegetable.”

Hope for Health?

Here’s the part where I tell you that there’s hope . . . that you can take matters into your own hands and send your kids to school with a homemade lunch, filled with all the healthy fruits and vegetables they should be eating on a daily basis.

The problem arises when those parents cannot afford to buy healthy food (or in some cases, any kind of food) to send with their kids to school and must rely on federally-assisted school lunch programs. For those parents, who is looking out for their kids? Certainly not Congress; nor the mammoth food corporations who hired those lobbyists.

Perhaps it’s time to start the “Occupy School Lunch” movement.

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