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Lawmaker Wants to End Pizza's Status as Vegetable

federal school lunch program, kids and nutrition

Is tomato paste, ketchup's cousin, the latest vegetable craze?

The overhaul of American school lunches has a long way to go, but it seems like we’re at the right point in kid nutrition history to quit letting smears of cooked down tomatoes do the heavy lifting of, say, a leafy green.

We’re all familiar with the legend of the Reagan-era ketchup-as-vegetable and it’s an outrage that keeps on giving. Then last fall, the U.S. Congress allowed for pizza — actually, the tomato paste on pizza — to count toward the federally mandated vegetable serving.

Sure, on a technicality tomato paste may constitute a vegetable. But really? De-seeded, skinless, simmered in large amounts of sodium — what nutrition is left in two tablespoons of the stuff is hardly the centerpiece of a healthy, vitamin rich lunch.

Which is why Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado is introducing the SLICE Act, a bill that won’t likely pass but at least attempts to revisit the spirit of federal school lunch program that tends to get bogged down with the letter of the law.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Polis’s bill, the School Lunch Improvements for Children’s Education Act, would force the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees school lunch programs, to count 1/8 of a cup of tomato paste as only 1/8 of a cup of vegetables. Currently, 1/8 of a cup — or two tablespoons — counts as 1/2 a cup of vegetables or an entire serving.

Polis says he isn’t trying to ban pizza from school lunch menus. Rather, he’s trying to block the influence of large food manufacturers on the federal school lunch program. Under the current law, they can sell a lot of pizza to schools because tomato paste counts as a veggie.

Few expect the bill to go far in the current Congress, which is too bad. There are ways to make pizza a vegetable, but focusing on tomato paste is not one of them. What would be wrong with putting a half a cup of vegetables on a slice of pizza, including fresh tomatoes?

Do you think pizza should count as a vegetable?

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