Pizza is a Vegetable!?

Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the little kid’s fantasy come true, the frat boy’s food pyramid scheme: After Congress shut down the USDA’s attempt to improve health standards in school lunches last week, the blogosphere erupted: “Pizza is a vegetable!?”

The headlines wrote themselves (case in point: Congress to USDA: Pizza is So a Vegetable, Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah). But look: you have to be at least reasonably fair and realize that at least a good part of the hubbub has been wildly overdone. If you haven’t run across it yet, calm down and read the Washington Post‘s take. As it points out, no one (frenzied media aside) actually ruled that pizza itself is a vegetable. Not even a politician is that backwards. What did happen is that, thanks to this move, the pizza makers and school lunch programs still get to call a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste a full serving of vegetables — as opposed to having to find a way to pile on a full half-cup of the stuff. It makes it easy to keep serving pizza to kids while still getting financial aid for serving plenty of healthy food. Believe it or not, tomato paste is actually quite dense, nutritionally-speaking, even at smaller levels like two tablespoons. It’s really just about comparable to full servings of other vegetables.

On the other hand, let’s be honest. Anything that makes it easy to be serving regular pizza to kids today — in an age where childhood rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are shockingly high — is not good. And therein really lies the issue that sticks in everybody’s throat. Why did we just make it easy to keep right on shoveling pizza down kids’ mouths? Because it serves solid levels of potassium? Because it contains a few tablespoons of tomato paste, sandwiched between carb-loaded crust and fatty cheese? That’s not the answer, no matter how much frozen food advocates repeat their ridiculous, ridiculous lines.