Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY-17) has co-sponsored legislation to reverse a Congressional decision defining pizza as a vegetable in school meals. Buried in the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations legislation, passed in 2011, was a provision indicating that a small amount of tomato paste on pizza qualifies as a serving of fresh fruit or vegetables. This was reminiscent of the Reagan Administration attempt to define ketchup as a vegetable.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced the SLICE (School Lunch Improvements for Children’s Education) Act this week to rectify this situation with Rep. Engel as a co-sponsor. Over 1.8 million children were enrolled in the New York State school lunch program in 2011.
“Any parent knows that it has become more difficult to find a balanced nutritional meal on the school lunch menu. It is insulting to not only classify the tomato paste in pizza as a vegetable, but to suggest it could replace an actual vegetable as part of a healthy meal. Pizza is as much of a vegetable as a strawberry shortcake is a fruit. We need to be adding real fruits and vegetables into children’s diets, not less. Our country has a serious obesity issue, especially among children, and we should not be in the business of making things worse,” said Rep. Engel.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years nationwide are obese. In New York City, 20.7 percent of school children are considered obese. In the rest of New York State, approximately 17% of schoolchildren are considered obese and another 15% are overweight. Obese children are more likely to become obese adults and struggle with serious health issues like diabetes and heart disease. According to report from the New York State Comptroller’s office, New York ranks second among states in adult obesity-related medical expenditures, with $7.6 billion spent in the state, 81% of which is paid by Medicaid and Medicare.
The SLICE Act would restore USDA’s authority to implement healthful standards in public schools in three significant ways:
“I like having a slice of pizza as much as anyone else, and in New York, we are especially proud of our pizza. In raising my three children, I never thought pizza could take the place of green beans or carrots and be considered a vegetable. However, at school, using taxpayer dollars, we should not be expanding the nation’s obesity and health problems by serving children meals masquerading as vegetables,” added Rep. Engel.