As if we weren’t already annoyed with Washington for it’s unshakable party politics and cozy position with lobbying firms, now Congress has gone and done something unspeakable against the youngest generations of Americans. They’ve declared that pizza is a vegetable. Well, it’s not official yet, but they’re close to making it so. Next week both houses of Congress will vote on a bill that will essentially undo the hard work that the USDA has done to make school lunches healthier. New rules recommended by the Institute of Medicine, which promote full servings of vegetables, lower sodium levels, an increase of multi-grain foods and a decrease of starchy foods, declare pizza an unfit veggie. Sounds like common sense, right? Yet, all of these rules have been wiped clean from the new bill, HR-2112, in response to lobbying efforts by the frozen food industry, the sodium industry and potato growers — read, more French fries coming to a school cafeteria near you. Sponsored by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) this is a disgraceful and knowing slight to the epidemic rise in the childhood obesity rate, which is currently nearly 20 percent. Keeping school lunches unhealthy keeps our children unhealthy and calls for a future of high healthcare costs, increased disease and continued ignorance about how nutritional food can improve lives.

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If pizza becomes a veggie, you might expect that there are some serious campaign contributions on behalf of those benefiting from wiping the new rules out of the bill headed toward the campaigns of the 217 Republicans in the House that just voted for the updated regulations. The bill, HR-2112, like many pieces of legislation that try to sneak these little amendments by the citizens of the United States, is much larger than the school lunch programs it threatens to undermine. It’s actually buried deep within an bill called the Agriculture, Commerce/Justice/Science (CJS), and Transportation/Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill. Specifically the changes in the bill seek to block the Agriculture department from limiting servings of starchy vegetables — corn and peas — to two servings a day, block limits on sodium levels in school lunches by calling for further research, require the USDA to define what “whole grains” means before they serve them (we’re pretty sure they’ve already done that) and lastly allow two tablespoons of tomato paste to count as a vegetable — the pizza provision — and not the 1/2 cup that the USDA recommends.

These alterations to HR-2112 come as a backlash to President Obama signing into law the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, which laid out these new healthier school lunch regulations. A summary of the new updates to HR-2112 — which was passed in its original form by the Democratic controlled Senate earlier this year — says that these new regulations will, “prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations…Without these provisions, the cost of these important programs would balloon by an additional $7 billion over the next five years – leaving states and local school districts in the lurch.”

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Interestingly in the original bill it is noted that individual school districts will receive an initial increased reimbursement for each school lunch of 6 cents to cover — and might we mention almost doubly cover — the cost of the healthy changes. As the New America Foundation points out, the Republicans in the Senate say they’re worried about burdening school districts, yet the school districts won’t take the burden, the Federal Government would. Which is another argument for politicians and officials that want to stop these changes, in an economic time such as this, why would we put that extra cost on our government?

The answer is simple. Rising obesity rates are calculated to cost the federal government $344 billion dollars a year starting in 2018. According to government studies, 38% of obese children live at or below the poverty line and these are the kids that are relying most heavily on school lunches for sustenance. The decision by the House of Representatives to endanger our children’s future by essentially blocking for the foreseeable future, regulations regarding healthier school lunches is burdening children who don’t have any other choice but to get in the lunch line and eat the food that is served that day. Teaching those children that pizza, French fries and sodium rich foods are a proper source of vitamins and minerals is a disgrace to them and a bigger burden than anyone could imagine now on the future health of our nation.

The House and the Senate are currently working out differences on their bills and are expected to vote soon on this legislation. There is still hope, write to your representative and tell them how you feel about healthy kids and healthy futures.

+ HR-2112

Lead photo by bob194156