US Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) on Monday unveiled new legislation designed to reverse Congress' classification last year of pizza as a vegetable in the National School Lunch Program. Tagged with the cute moniker the SLICE Act (School Lunch Improvements for Children’s Education), Polis's measure calls for USDA to change nutrition standards so school pies are more like the pizza recipes the White House chefs have created for First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, which are made with whole wheat crusts and laden with vegetables. (Above: Mrs. Obama and kids enjoy veggie pizza during a Kitchen Garden event last year)
Polis said his measure is an obesity reduction effort and he is hoping it will gather heat and be included in the 2012 Farm Bill negotiations. Neither Mrs. Obama--the foremost champion of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, which transformed America's school lunch standards--nor White House aides commented last year when Congress drop-kicked the legislation with the measure that made pizza a vegetable.
About 32 million kids participate in the National School Lunch Program, and about 17% of kids ages 2-18 are obese, according to the latest federal statistics.
From Polis's office, the press release about his legislation:
Louisville, CO: To reverse Congress’ absurd decision to define pizza as a vegetable in school meals, Congressman Jared Polis today unveiled new legislation—the SLICE (School Lunch Improvements for Children’s Education) Act—to protect students’ health by allowing sensible nutrition standards for pizza in the meals our children eat at schools. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a rule that would have prevented pizza from being counted as a vegetable in meals but Congress succumbed to lobbying from the frozen food industry and blocked it.
“Agribusinesses should never dictate the quality of school meals,” said Polis. “Big food companies have their priorities, which include selling cheap, unhealthy foods at high profits. But parents and schools have their priorities; making sure our kids eat right because research shows a clear connection between nutrition and student performance in school.”
Polis announced the new legislation today at Louisville Middle School, where he was joined by Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) Food Service Director, Ann Cooper, who has been a leader in improving nutrition in school meals. Ed. note: Cooper has visited the White House for Let's Move!, and is one of the leaders of the First Lady's Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative.
“For the past three years BVSD has worked hard to ensure that all of our students have access to healthy delicious food in schools,” Cooper explained. “We have eliminated added transfats, high fructose corn syrup, colors and dyes. We are proud to have added salad bars in every school with fresh fruit and vegetables as well as organic milk, whole grains and instituted a priority on regional procurement. We fully support Representative Polis' work to improve school food as our children's health is our most important asset.”
With alarming increases in child obesity rates and other troubling indicators of child health, Congress acted to update national school meal standards in December 2010 by reauthorizing the federal Child Nutrition Act (the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act). But the current Congress undermined those standards last year when it included language in a USDA funding bill that would allow pizza to qualify as a vegetable due to the small amount of tomato paste it contains.
While tomato paste has a small amount of nutrients, pizza is loaded with sugar, salt, bread and cheese, which carry a great deal of fat and carbohydrates that turn into sugar during digestion. Categorizing pizza as a vegetable because of its small amount of tomato paste is exactly the wrong approach, as Type II diabetes rates among children and child obesity continue to climb.
The SLICE Act would restore USDA’s authority to implement healthful standards to pizza in public schools in three significant ways:
- Allow the USDA to accurately count 1/8 of a cup of tomato paste as 1/8 of a cup, instead of half of a cup, which qualifies pizza as a vegetable;
- Allow the USDA to implement science-based sodium reduction targets; and,
- Allow the USDA to set a whole grain requirement.
*Photo by Helena Bottemiller for Obama Foodorama