Last week the United States Congress voted to make frozen pizza an official vegetable, determining that USDA efforts to increase fruit and vegetable servings in school lunches would be denied. The tomato paste in frozen pizza supposedly qualifies as an acceptable vegetable, thanks to large food companies like ConAgra and Shwan pressuring Congress to align their guidelines with the companies’ financial interests.
The government has come under pressure from conservatives recently about dictating the food that people eat, notably from Sarah Palin calling first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign an example of the new “nanny state”. However this move shows that the government does not seem to care too much about what we eat either way, as company interests have clearly superseded health concerns for school lunch. After examining the ingredients in ConAgra’s traditional 4” x 6” pizza, it hardly has any vegetables in it and barely qualifies as a pizza at all.
According to the New York Times, food companies have already spent an estimated $5.6 million lobbying against these new food regulations. A lot of the damage done to school lunches has already been instilled in children by years of eating industrialized food. Studies have shown that children’s taste palettes seem to reject the healthier food in place of the industrialized options, going to great pains to remove vegetables from their plates, even pulling all the spinach out of lasagna. Parents and lunch officials alike believe that kids simply won’t eat the healthier options, but skeptics say that industrialized food has only been around for about 60 years and prior to this, children must have eaten healthier food. The fact is, extended exposure to salty, fatty and sugary foods alters the taste palette and can make healthier foods seem bland and unappealing. By marketing exclusively to children, these food companies are targeting children at a young age and drastically altering their eating habits.
Nearly thirty years ago President Reagan proposed to save money on school lunches by suggesting ketchup could be served as a vegetable rather than as a condiment. Though the idea by mocked then and never taken seriously, we have come dangerously close to this level of negligence in caring for what food is served in school cafeterias. Currently one in every four 4-year olds is obese, and with Congress remaining unwilling to stand up to the food industry, we can expect these numbers to further increase.
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