Not even a Washington politician could make the argument (with a straight face) that pizza sauce is a vegetable! Yet, that’s exactly what they are saying.
The final version of a spending bill released Monday would unwind current school lunch standards proposed by the Agriculture department earlier this year. These standards were intended to make these lunches, served for free or reduced cost to students from lower income families, healthier. The new standards originally included limits on the use of potatoes and sodium as well as a requirement to help boost whole grains. They also would have no longer allowed providers to count the tomato paste used in pizza sauce as a vegetable, because of the small amount included.
Republicans in the House say that the changes they propose will “prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations.” But supporters of the new rules disagree, saying that that they are necessary to boost the nutritional value of these lunches. The proposed changes also allow more servings of starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas and corn, which are generally less expensive than other vegetables, but also lower in vitamins and nutrients, and higher in calories.
The proposed rules were based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said they were needed to reduce childhood obesity and future healthcare costs. Even a group of retired generals advocated for the changes, labeling poor nutrition in school lunches a national security issue because obesity is the leading medical disqualifier for military service.
With all this support, how can these changes be blocked? It is largely due to opposition from food companies that product frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers. These powerful lobbies have pushed conservatives away from these changes over the past few months. And it looks like they are succeeding!
So, as advocates for reversing the growing childhood obesity problem, we ask you to call or write your congress members and express your support for these changes. You can find your representatives at http://whoismyrepresentative.com/. Just put in your zip code, and your representative will be listed.
Remember, healthy choices eat day can transform your family for generations! What choices will you make today?